Guest Post, Ivy: Stress; or how I gained a spare tire despite eating Paleo

Wednesdays are our Guest Blogger Series day where we feature Paleo and real-food bloggers. We hope you enjoy the new view points and unique content; if so, we encourage you to show these guest bloggers your support by visiting their blog and social media links provided in this post.

This week we’re visited by Ivy of Paleo in Melbourne. Wife and mother of three kids, Ivy writes a heartfelt blog on her healthy living journey. She shares delicious recipes and tips on how to carve your own path to a healthy a you. Today she shares her story on how stress created a roadblock to meeting her health goals and how she overcame the challenge. It’s a great addition to the topic recently started by Stacy in this post.


Did my headline catch your eye? Bet it did. I went Paleo 2 years ago. I lost 23 kilos/50 pounds in the first 13 months. Slow and steady wins the game, right? And boy did I enjoy losing that weight! I ate like I had never eaten before, never went hungry, I exercised less but saw more muscles. My skin, hair and nails were all of a sudden out-of-this-world amazing. You know, the usual Paleo-awesomeness that tends to happen when you swap from eating SAD to real whole foods.

After a year of eating Paleo I started up my own site, blog and Facebook-page. If you feel passionately about something that works really well for you, it’s common to feel a strong urge to spread the word and even preach a little. I have a long and complicated history of dieting and disordered eating, so finding Paleo and leaving all those emotional eating-issues behind was great. Nearly as great as fitting into clothes I hadn’t worn since my late teens, or being 2 sizes smaller than I was on my wedding-day. The very best thing was that I had the energy to enjoy and play with my 3 kids.


Photo, left:  Before Paleo at 86 kg/190 pounds. Right: After Paleo and major stress; slowly recovering back to normal weight

Stress is the ultimate weight-gain trigger

As far as exercise goes, I started lifting heavy weights 18 months ago, and loved that too. Exercise becomes so much more enjoyable when you actually see results (this coming from an ex-treadmill junkie). As expected I put on some weight, but all my clothes fitted the same- I wasn’t at all concerned with the numbers on the scale. In fact, it was very rare that I even bothered with our bathroom-scales; they weren’t good for my mental state and served no purpose now that I was gaining muscle. I stuck to a clean, low-carb Paleo-diet, where my cheats included 85% chocolate, some occasional raw dairy and Medjool-dates.

I started including fermented foods like kefir, Kombucha and sauerkraut late last year, and felt really wonderful until all of a sudden, I didn’t. Something turned my newfound health upside down and became a major stressor on my body. I’m not talking stress as in “Boy, today was crazy busy in the office” or “Yikes, I have a deadline for this blog and it’s been keeping me up till late every night this week”. Nor am I talking about exercise-induced stress, although that also played a part in the bigger picture. For the first time I experienced the havoc high cortisol will do to your body; its hormones, immune system and gut health. It affected me in many ways, but the most obvious was that I gained weight. All of this due to stress, brought on from a surprising source…


Back to square one thanks to Candida

To cut a long story short, the introduction of raw milk kefir into my diet was not a good idea for my body. Kefir is milk fermented by kefir-grains; a living culture of yeast and bacteria. It’s one of the best probiotic foods there is. The problem was that the strains of wild yeast in the kefir awoke the Candida overgrowth in my gut, which made the yeast strong and dominant within weeks. A month after I started drinking kefir, I knew something wasn’t right. All my previous symptoms of leaky gut were back with a vengeance; I suffered reactions to nearly all the foods I ate. I was lethargic, sleepy, fatigued and extremely bloated. My perfect 28-day cycle turned into a 31-day inflamed nightmare. I craved and ate Paleo sugary carbs as if my life depended on it (in fact, the Candida’s life depended on it!).

I had pimples breaking out on my chin, dandruff, zero sex-drive, poor sleep and extremely low tolerance to stress. The thick, white coating on the back of my tongue returned and my eyes were no longer clear and bright, but dull and hazy. In fact, I felt as bad as I did before I went Paleo.

In the month of November, I noticed that all my clothes were tight. Not just a little bit tight, but downright uncomfortable. I stepped onto the dreaded scales and realized I had put on 6 kilos/14 pounds. And it was definitely not muscle. It was all around the belly, waist and upper-arms, areas where my body stores stress-induced fat. I knew then that stress will override good nutrition and clean food no matter what. My body’s ability to burn excess calories was on hold as I was seemingly going through a war with the Candida. My immune-system was shot. I was low in zinc and B2, the latter a vital part of fat metabolism. Going by how I felt, I was probably lacking a bunch of other minerals and vitamins too. The fact that I needed naps to get through the days indicated as much. When you know what it feels like to feel really good, nothing else will do. I was striving to feel well again- but how could I achieve that?


Do less but achieve more: deal with your stressors

This post is not about how horrible it is to put on a bit of weight despite eating clean and well. Very few of us have the genetics to look like a Victoria’s Secret-model no matter how we eat and train. That’s perfectly fine with me, I love my body the way it is. It can do amazing things. I am forever grateful for the good health and strong body I’ve been given.

This post is about how badly stress affects you physically. My lesson was to get to the source of my physical stress and deal with it. Don’t patch it up with a “Band-Aid solution”, but try as much as possible to remove that stressor. Until I did, despite tweaking and adjusting my squeaky clean Paleo-diet a hundred times over, nothing would change. I kept putting on weight (much slower than if I was eating a SAD-diet, but still), and by December 2012 I reached the point of desperation. Yes, I was sick of not fitting into my jeans and dresses, but mostly I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

I blogged about my woes in a 2-part series to let my readers know where I was at. As if the universe was answering my pleas, I eventually found a solution to the Candida-overgrowth. Within a month (after really bad die-off) I felt like my old self again. I decided to tackle the extra pounds, but doing it with the main-focus being strength and maintaining muscle. I love feeling strong and flexible, most of all I love feeling energetic and healthy. These days I’m much more aware of the dangers of stress, whether it’s emotional or physical. And guess what? I gain far better results by doing less, but paying more attention to the physical signs I develop during times of stress.


Photos: Today, after months of battling Candida, a condition that caused me major internal stress.

Be mindful of what your body is telling you

Pay attention to your physical and emotional self. It’s been long enough for me to look back over the last 6 months with a bit of newly gained perspective. I want to get one thing straight: I don’t believe weight-gain or loss comes down to ‘calories in, calories out’. I lost 23 kg/50 pounds by eating well over my suggested, ‘conventional wisdom’ daily calorie intake (based on size, gender and activity-levels). I believe it all comes down to hormonal balance and a well-functioning digestive system. When I achieved good hormonal balance by going Paleo, everything else seemed to fall into place.

Stress increases the stress-hormone cortisol. Eventually high cortisol starts affecting all other finely tuned hormonal systems in our bodies. Prolonged periods of raised cortisol will create havoc within. Because I know my body quite well, I knew when things went off track. What were my less obvious signs of stress, apart from the rapid weight-gain*? I developed deep, horizontal ridges across my nails, pimples along my chin and jaw-line, feeling cold and unable to heat up, white coating on the tongue, restless sleep, fatigue, low digestive enzymes, cravings for sweet foods, sluggish digestion, aversion to animal protein and dry skin. As you can see, the list of ails was long and random, but they were signs of an inner battle.

I’ve learned that STRESS should be the first thing you trouble-shoot before tweaking an already wholesome Paleo diet:

  • Are you eating enough?
  • Is it possible that you need more carbs?
  • Are you training too much or too hard?
  • Do you suspect parasites, Candida, virus-infection or other pesky gut-bugs?
  • Could you suffer from undiagnosed allergies or intolerances?
  • Are you not sleeping enough?
  • Are you in an unhappy relationship?
  • Is work taking its toll on you?

You get my drift. I believe that the Paleo-template is a great way of sustaining good health, but if you are constantly under high stress, that stress will overwrite any good your diet might do. A healthy diet will slow down the process, sure, but eventually the stress will catch up with you.

Eating Paleo is not necessarily the golden ticket to your “forever after perfect bikini-body”. Viewing your health holistically and addressing stressors is a major part of achieving good health. That should be our ultimate goal: wellness and vitality. Eat well, embrace rest, sleep and mindfulness, and you’ll be well on your way to forever after good health.

*There are many types of stress, and not all of them will make you gain weight- that’s just my own real-life example.

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