In April of 2014, Primal Palate interviewed Meg Doll—a holistic nutritionist and self-love advocate—for a Paleo success story. Meg became our first success story post about someone who tried to gain weight on Paleo. Today, you’ll meet the second.
Almost three years after I wrote that original post on Meg, I met her for the first time. The day I met Meg was the day she moved in with me. For the past month, she’s lived in my apartment as we photograph her upcoming book, Keto Freedom.
One week into the project, one of Meg’s former clients flew across the country to spend the day with us. The girl who walked into my apartment was gorgeous, talkative, smiling, and ready to pitch in. She was tall and didn’t appear to have an ounce of fat on her body. When she proudly said, “Since I started working with Meg, I’ve gained thirty pounds,” I almost dropped my camera. (We asked, and Meg is accepting new clients. You can get in touch with her here: [email protected] – Bill & Hayley)
You are about to meet Liz—my one-day photography assistant and the next success story at Primal Palate. Liz was diagnosed with Lupus and Celiac Disease in college, causing rapid weight loss from 130 to 90 pounds. She would remain severely underweight for the remainder of college.
Keep reading for Liz’s story, the social stigma she went through for being falsely labeled as anorexic, and the changes she made to finally get better.
For more on Liz, check out her blog and follow her on Instagram!
Let’s start at the beginning. When did your health story start?
In high school, I was the picture of good health. I don’t say that to sound conceited. I never got sick, did well in school, didn’t sleep much, was a two-sport varsity athlete—I felt invincible.
Toward the end of high school I got a very bad rash on my cheek. I thought it was from sun exposure over spring break. When it didn’t go away, I went to the doctor. Immediately upon seeing it, he said, “That’s a Lupus rash.”
I was diagnosed several weeks into my freshman year of college at Notre Dame—mainly because I waited so long to go see a doctor. I didn’t feel bad or even know what Lupus was. I didn’t see what the big deal was when my doctor asked me if I “wanted to talk about it.”
The doctors put me on a couple medications and a steroid. Hypothetically, I would take the pills three times a day for the rest of my life. That is when the problems started. The drugs made me feel AWFUL. I had a ton of nausea, causing total food aversion. I could not stomach the thought of putting food in my mouth.
Things got really bad in the fall of sophomore year. In those first four months, I lost forty pounds. I went from 130 to 90 by Christmas break. Every doctor I went to thought I was anorexic. One after another, I told them, “I swear, this has nothing to do with me wanting to look or feel this way. I feel awful.”
I stopped taking the medications, but could not gain a pound. Not one pound! The weight loss got so bad, I started eating everything I could possibly eat. I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. My family lives in South Bend, and my mom brought me food and took me to doctor appointments. Things got a little better, but I still didn’t feel well.
Somehow during all of this, I convinced my parents to let me spend the summer studying abroad in Ghana. I was so desperate for a sliver of normalcy. To my shock, they let me.
At the end of that trip, I was so sick I was almost forced to fly home twenty-four hours earlier. I thought I was going to die. Doctors ran a few simple blood tests and discovered I had Celiac Disease. Months before, I tried going gluten-free and dairy-free to help with the nausea. I requested that test much earlier, but everyone just told me I had was anorexic. While I was in Ghana, I ate so much white bread it nearly killed me.
When did you transition from gluten-free to Paleo?
The fall semester of my junior year—right after returning from Ghana—I was going to study abroad in Rome. I didn’t think gluten-free would be enough. The doctors were like, “There is no way you should be taking that trip,” but one suggested I try Paleo. One week before Rome, I stopped all medication and went on the GAPS diet.
It is truly remarkable that I didn’t get sick on that trip. No medication, and here I was—feeling a million times better. But when I came back home, I was still so tiny. I hadn’t gained a single pound.
That spring semester was really stressful. I had to load-up on classes to make up for my semester abroad. My way of coping was to say, “I’m not going to eat anything that isn’t GAPS-friendly.” I wanted to get better so badly it became an obsession. I started losing more weight because I was so stressed-out over eating the “right” foods. Eventually, I had this come-to-Jesus moment when I said, “Something is not working.” By that time, my white blood count had dropped to 0.2.
So, at this point you tried gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo, and GAPS and you still couldn’t gain weight. What changed?
By my senior year of college—2015—I was running out of ideas. Lupus causes your body to attack healthy cells, and my number one impact was just sheer exhaustion. I had zero energy. I was losing my hair. I was diagnosed with PCOS that year, and all I could think was, “Great. Just add one more to my list.”
I turned to Instagram and found Meg’s profile. I scrolled through her posts and discovered she used Paleo to gain weight. Instantly, I thought, “I have to do this.”
My life completely turned around the day I started working with Meg. In the same time frame it took me to lose the weight (four months), I gained twenty-five of the forty I lost. Six months later, I put on another five. I got my first period in four years. I was a runner in high school and still don’t have the muscle I once had, but my energy levels are so much better.
I cannot tell you how much better I feel now, compared to then. Occasionally, I’ll have a bad day and it’s a total shock. I used to feel like that every day. I’m such a happier, brighter person now—and people tell me that.
What was the catalyst for change? What do you think caused you to finally feel better?
When I started working with Meg, I experienced three big changes:
- Introducing carbs was a huge benefit to me. When I was trying so hard to feel better, I eliminated fruit because I thought sugar would make me sick. I had no concept of how much fat I had to eat to compensate for the lost carbs. I wasn’t counting calories—which is how I knew I wasn’t anorexic—and didn’t understand that if I took out an entire food group, I needed to replace it with a sh*t ton of fat.
- I learned to regain my mental sanity around food. Every time I ate something, I thought I would get sick. I slowly learned to give up control over every particle that entered my body.
- Reducing stress was one of the main reasons I gained weight. I think my body was constantly in “fight or flight” mode. I just needed to take a step back from that.
When I was “in the weeds” with Meg, I made an incredible effort at each meal to ensure I got enough food. I looked to her for answers to so many questions. She taught me to look for answers from myself, rather than from her.
Today, I don’t measure my food or count calories; I just listen to my body. I’m a huge believer in bone broth, so for breakfast I almost always have soup with avocado and meat. For lunch, I almost always have a salad. I know that sounds boring, but I always add a ton of veggies and meat. In the afternoon, I’ll have an almond butter packet or half an avocado. For dinner, it’s meat, a good serving of carbs, and a serving of roasted vegetables. Oh, and I enjoy chocolate throughout the day. I probably average 2,000 calories, but some days I’m sure it exceeds 4,000. I’m not binging, I’m simply taking a deep breath and realizing, “I’m still really hungry!”
If I witnessed a college girl lose forty pounds in one semester, I would think she had an eating disorder. I know that sounds horrible, but I would have thought the same thing as all those doctors. What did people say when you gained the weight back?
It was shocking how fast the weight came on. Everyone was like, “You look so much better!” I only had a heart-to-heart with those who said, “OMG, I always believed you.” I didn’t find the need to explain myself to those who clearly didn’t believe me.
Throughout college, I had a lot of friends who were really concerned about me. They tried to do the right thing by sitting me down and saying, “Look. Do you have a problem?” I can’t fault them for it. I think I would have done the same thing had I been in their shoes.
The people who stood by me were a very short list—my parents, and a select group of friends. If I lost any of them, it would have been over for me. There were times I came out of doctors’ appointments bawling to my mom, “PLEASE tell me you believe me. PLEASE. You have to believe me.” I think she started questioning if she, as a mom, was in denial.
I always felt like people were questioning me and talking about me. Honestly, I was trying to convince myself this wasn’t all in my head. It was the most isolating and miserable experience of my life. It scared me for a long time. It wrecked my confidence and I didn’t feel pretty for years afterward. I was just so uncomfortable in my own skin.
How did your parents handle the situation? They had to be worried sick about you.
It’s kind of a mystery to me. I can’t imagine what they were thinking, but they never made me feel like they feared for my life. They always put confidence in me and said, “Do what you want to do.” I don’t know if I, as a parent, could have said, “Yea, go to Ghana!” but they knew it was important to me. If I were forced to stay home and be the sick kid, that mental blow would have been too much for me.
When I started the GAPS diet, I was walking out of the doctor’s office and I turned to my mom and said, “What should I do??” She just said, “Welp! Looks like we’re going to Whole Foods.” It was like she was saying, “Yes. This is going to be hard. Who cares?” We never looked back. They’ve both been super supportive and I could ask for anything more.
When I was in college, the worst thing I dealt with was a hangover. Do you ever feel like you missed out on your college years?
There is a part of me that’s a little bitter over my college experience. I didn’t get to drink or go out. The eve of my 21st birthday was the worst night of my life, when I woke up with a 104-degree fever. I had to cook my own food in the dorm kitchen because of my diet. It was inconvenient and isolating, watching everyone else go off to the dining halls together.
I grew up very fast because so much happened to me in such a short amount of time. I think of myself as an old soul. I don’t feel twenty-two in the slightest bit. But honestly, finding Paleo has uncovered a huge passion I never knew I had. I have a huge Instagram community, I found out who my real friends are, and the people who matter to me are the people who stuck by me.
If someone stumbles across your blog or this post, what would you want them to know? If they are going through something similar, what would you want to tell them?
It’s been super fun blogging since October and watching my Instagram account grow, but I don’t intend to make it a career. My only hope is to influence others seeking help. If one person reads my blog and benefits from it, that’s enough.
Here’s what I want them to know:
- You are not alone. I know how cheesy this sounds. I know you’ve been turned around by doctor, after doctor, after doctor; but you are not crazy.
- You are working toward a new normal. Meg used to say this to me. The nature of an autoimmune disease is that it never actually goes away—you just manage the symptoms. I thought I would always feel sick. You might feel awful now, but you do not have to feel this way forever.
- Food won’t solve everything. Food is a super powerful tool for healing, but take a deep breath and be happy, because without happiness you cannot feel. If you are so stressed out you can’t sleep at night, be with friends, or enjoy a night out; you will not get better.
Throughout all of this, the hardest thing was this feeling that I lost myself. I didn’t feel like my talkative, bubbly self. I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t be super woman anymore. I didn’t have energy, so I was forced to pick and choose what I could be involved in.
In the process of getting better, I started asking questions. “Who am I?” I’ve been forced to redefine myself. I may never be a cross-country runner again, but that doesn’t mean I have to be stuck being the sick kid. You have the opportunity to define who you are, and who you will become.
Want to read more about Liz? Check out her blog and follow her on Instagram!
Want more inspiration?
WOWWWW. Y’all, I was really only visiting the site to pick up some Paleo recipes to try this week—I did NOT expect to read a success story, or to be so moved. I registered this account just to comment. Liz, I love your story, and so much of it resonated.
I keep re-typing this comment, because there’s so much to say…! I keep seeing the similarities between this article and my own health journey, and I’m so amazed by this post. I’d *also* been accused of disordered eating—but in my case, it was because I suddenly got so heavy. (Then: surprise mystery-disease diagnosis! Hah.)
I was still really suffering from ulcer pain, IBS symptoms, the works, when my disease specialist suggested “paleo” to me. (I’d never heard before about “inflammation” or “trigger foods” or anything like that.) It wasn’t until I was eating differently, that I suddenly realized how, not “disordered,” but certainly *unhealthy* my relationship with food had become, due to illness—I was eating food, not for pleasure, but to live, and I’d stare down at food wondering “how will YOU ruin my day?” Liz refers to this as being “food-averse.” That’s a perfect way to describe it. And for some reason, the fear and anxiety I’d developed around food, wasn’t obvious to me *until* I changed the way I eat.
Sometimes people are surprised that I eat a “restrictive” diet at all (ahem), and then if I say the word “paleo” I see them get worried. I smile at them (graciously, I hope!), and talk about the Autoimmune Protocol diet, then conclude by adding “—so, my diet is less restrictive than THAT!” Next they usually ask whether it were “hard” to start eating this way. “No,” I’ll admit, “it was maybe tough to decide to commit to it, and I spent a couple weeks mentally prepping myself, but then it was really easy to just do it for myself.”
When I explain that, for me, it’s mostly just about “home cooking” and an “elimination diet,” but also about concern for myself, and self-love, people seem to get it. They understand why cooking at home and not adding sugars is healthy. Go figure!
“Restrictive diet” is such a funny term because, if you’ve suffered from an autoimmune disease, you might know what a minefield eating “normal” can be (“Urp, what was even IN there? Hork”). If anything, I feel totally liberated from a lot of my symptoms and, as a result, I feel free from the nagging anxiety that every meal will surprise me and hurt me. To feel differently—that’s awesome! THAT is healthy!
I know I got diverted from Liz’s story, and I apologize, but so much of what she articulates—about the importance of believing someone when she says something is wrong, about regaining your own personal “sanity” around food—hits home in so many ways. What a wise person! I love this so much!!