Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My Paleo Journey: From Sick and Flabby to Fabulous!

Hey hey, y'all!!

So, it's been a minute since I have been able to slay you with my delicious words (aka the avocado blog). But alas, the time has come again, and ohhhh it's gonna get REAL up in here! You might want to grab a box of Kleenex for this one and prepare to be inspired! It is a long blog, but please stay with it. I promise, it's worth your time!

So, flashback to November 2013: My life was pretty damn good. I was engaged to be married to a seemingly perfect, charming man named Eric. He was my rock. We had been together for almost three years before he finally popped the question. I opened up the ring box to reveal the most beautiful rose gold diamond engagement ring you've ever seen - with a decent-sized rock in it (you shoulda seen it, wow!). I was interning (paid) in the marketing department at Grantham University at the time, trying to get some experience in blogging and social media. I was in a healthy relationship, finally getting some writing experience under my belt, and feeling good. I was on Levothyroxine at the time for my hypothyroidism. My numbers were stable there too. All the boxes were ticked.

Fast forward to Summer 2014: So, wedding plans are being finalized and I was doing so well, and found work as an Account Manager at a small ad agency in downtown Kansas City. I loved my job! I got to write copy and blogs and do social media on a daily basis, as well as chatting it up with clients and making sure they were well taken care of. Then in August, I got laid off due to budget cuts. I was devastated. But, I got a small severance package and scored an interview for a writer position at a compounding pharmacy publication. I rocked the interview and was given the job a few days later. I was set! Then, my health suddenly decided to crap out on me. I came down with what seemed like a bad cold, and turned out to be EBV (Epstein-Barr virus). I wasn't tired though, like most people with Mono, I was quite the opposite: I just couldn't sleep well anymore. I went from getting eight to nine precious hours of snooze time at night to maybe five or six for no apparent reason. I also had some testing done and found out I was VERY low in Vitamin D (in the 30's) and dangerously low in iron. We're talking red zone, borderline anemia here. So, the doc I went to for these tests put me on a whopping 25,000 IU of Vitamin D2 (not the good kind!) and I was in so much pain for an entire week! I could barely walk. The dosage was just too much for my 5'3" frame, and my system just couldn't handle all that Vitamin D. Idiot doctor! He also put me on ferrous sulfate iron supplements, which constipated me horribly. TMI maybe, but I went from going twice, maybe three times a day down to once every two days. It was painful. Iron supplementation is fine, if it's the right kind (chelated iron or iron bisglycinate are often better-tolerated). So, I was declining fast with the low iron, poor sleep (now down to three to four hours a night), and low Vitamin D levels. Then, my thyroid turned its back on me. I tried Armour (NDT), which is derived from the glands of pigs and supposed to be a better alternative to big pharma thyroid meds like Synthroid and Levothyroxine (a generic T4 medication). I did not tolerate the Armour AT ALL. It gave me heart palpitations, induced heavy sweating and made me feel like I was going to have a heart attack. So, I called the doc and told them about my symptoms and they immediately switched me back to my old standby, Levothyroxine. The heart palps and sweating ceased, but I still felt unwell. Armour works well for some people, but it was reformulated in 2009, and additional additives and fillers were added, which messed with a lot of people (including me) as it turns out! Yikes!

I felt so sick from all of these issues that I was unable to take the new writing job that I had so rightfully earned. It was a terrible feeling to have to call their HR manager and explain that due to health reasons, I felt as if I couldn't perform the job. Major downer for me.

My fiance was growing increasingly concerned about the rapid declination of my previously picture perfect health. My sleep had gotten so bad that I was down to about two hours per night. Then a week later, zero hours. Yes, you read that correctly. I couldn't sleep anymore. I tried supplements like valerian, and ashwagandha to see if they would help, but to no avail. I became so desperate for sleep that one afternoon at home alone, I made the decision to call a local mental health helpline, because I was considering hurting myself. I know that may seem crazy to some people, but I was at the very end of my rope. The lady on the helpline suggested that if I was able, I drive myself straight to St. Luke's emergency room and check myself in to get help. So, that's what I did.

After a physical and mental assessment by a mental health counselor, I was told that I was a possible danger to myself and was urged to check into their mental health wing for a few days. My mom showed up for support, and I checked in. I didn't know what to expect. My thoughts traveled back to the 2010 movie, It's Kind of a Funny Story, where a mentally exhausted teen checks himself into a psych ward. I was just like that kid. I thought about potential weirdos talking to themselves in the hallway, rocking themselves, screaming obscenities at invisible friends and so on. It was nothing like that (thank god!), but instead, a very supportive environment consisting of people mostly my age with some depression and anxiety issues, many with sleep problems like me. We had three square (mostly) healthy meals a day, did daily group counseling and were assessed and given medications. I was given Trazadone my first night there (an anti-depressant sometimes used for sleep), and I was knocked the hell out for like eight or nine hours. Finally, sleep. That was night one. The second night, they gave me Remeron (a low-dose anti-depressant sometimes used for sleep). I slept ok on this, but it only lasted two nights and then I was right back to square one. I was given a script for a few different medications and sent home three days later.

The Remeron worked for a little while when combined with the Trazadone that they had also sent me home with. Then, it all stopped working. I would lie awake all night, trying to find a way to fall asleep. I listened to relaxing meditation audio files and binaural beats on YouTube, which relaxed me, but didn't get me into the sleep I desperately needed. *Sigh*

I called my assigned psychiatrist and he suggested I lower the dose of Remeron and increase the Trazadone. Once again, this worked for only a few days. At the time, I wasn't working and had too much free time on my hands. My thoughts began to travel into dangerous territory again, and one afternoon, I decided to take about 60 pills with the goal to end my life (about three different medications total). My health and my life were spiraling downward, and I'd had enough. I got in the shower and almost blacked out. I managed to get out and get dressed and lie on the bed. I immediately called 911, realizing what I'd done to myself. An ambulance showed up with about six or seven EMTs and I was wheeled out into the ambulance to be taken to a nearby hospital. There, I was interviewed by another mental health counselor that by law, determined that I had to be admitted into yet another mental health facility. She said that I was too much of a danger to myself to be left alone. My now husband was there, becoming increasingly concerned, but at the same time, emotionally vacant. He was more worried about the mounting stack of medical bills than he was about me. He came to visit me twice at the facility (my mom came to see me every day she was allowed). I was there for about five days and given a plethora of meds: Zoloft, Lunesta, Klonopin, Ambien to name a few. Then I was again sent home with some new scripts for sleep medications. The Ambien actually worked for a while, but then back to no sleep. I was seeing doctor after doctor, each one studying me, trying to figure out why I could no longer sleep. I did a sleep study (on medication), which surprise, surprise,came back as inconclusive, since the medication I was on helped me get about six hours of sleep that night. Complete waste of time. My relationship with my husband began to crumble at a fast rate. I moved in with my mom, so that she could be with me during the day and drive me to doctor appointments. This further removed me from my husband, and he'd finally decided he'd had enough. He wasn't a strong enough man to stand by me in my greatest moment of weakness. In February 2014, I received a knock at the door with marriage annulment papers delivered by a process server. I was surprised, but not really. We'd only been married five months and didn't have any assets together (besides wedding presents of the monetary kind and various kitchen gadgets), so we divided up what we had been given, me taking most of the expensive kitchen gadgets, because I'd always loved cooking.

Still with me? Let's press on...

So that was it. Marriage over. I was still sick, I still wasn't working and the unemployment checks finally ran out. I had no money, no job, no hope for the future. Luckily, I didn't have many bills, and my wonderful mom was more than willing to let me stay with her as long as I needed support. My friends Alex and Jamie were also a source of support, and I'm forever grateful to them for this. I attended a wedding with Alex in late June 2015, and had a blast. This is when I was also at my heaviest (around 154 lbs on my little, 5'3" frame).

At Alex's cousin's wedding (June 2015)

I finally found a contract Web Merchandiser position in the Hallmark Corporate office for a few months, and was making some pretty good money there. I was doing better, but still having thyroid and major sleep issues. My mom and I decided to pack up and move to Phoenix to get a fresh start. I looked for jobs in marketing once we got to Phoenix, but the market was very competitive and I wasn't able to find anything. I was at home all day, watching tv, eating a lot of fast food and merely existing. I worked in retail over the holidays part-time, but that was about it. We both decided we hated the Phoenix heat, packed up once again in August 2016 and moved to Elgin, TX, where my aunt and uncle lived. We found an apartment in Elgin within about a month of searching (Austin is a tough and expensive city to find an apartment in). I needed money and a job, so I went online to search jobs with Advantage Solutions, a company I'd previously worked for doing retail merchandising. After a brief in-person interview, I was called the next day and offered a full-time job. Finally, I was back! It wasn't marketing or writing, but at least it was a source of income! I was still on medication for sleep, but managed to keep my energy levels up to do my job and the medication was allowing me to get about five to six hours of sleep each night. My job (still current job) with Advantage keeps me very active. I walk around stores all day checking for out of stock product, missing tags, checking displays and reporting on-shelf items for Mars Petcare. I learned how to talk to grocery managers in stores to get what needed to be done, done. And oh, I became VERY good at my job! I was always very shy in the past, but my job forced me to interact with several managers a day, so I got rid of that shyness really quickly!

I don't remember the exact moment, but something made me decide I wanted to wean myself off gluten. I just wanted to try it and see if I could do it. I had read about the dangers of a highly-processed carbohydrate diet for persons with thyroid issues, so I think this is what kicked my butt into gear finally. And oh boy, I was a recovering pasta and bread-aholic! I started out slow, cutting out bread and eating rice pasta. Not too bad. I started reading food labels more, performed my job at 100%, and began losing weight rapidly. I was shocked at how much different I looked and felt by cutting out gluten. It was so simple. The only exercise I was getting was walking around my stores, bending and lifting 30-50 lb bags of dog food, but all of that helped too. By March of 2017, I was ready to take it even further, so I made the jump to Paleo. I started eating salads every day for lunch with protein and avocado, cut out the rice pasta and flour, and eventually all grains and dairy. I had been soy-free for years, because of my thyroid, so that wasn't an issue.

I also decided to start blogging again. I had blogged in the past with jobs and internships I'd had, and I missed writing. It's my drug of choice, and I was always good at it. So, what to blog about? What else? Paleo, duh!

By April 2017, I had lost about 30 lbs. I started going to Zumba classes twice a week and became hardcore, balls-to-the-wall Paleo. I'm talking 100% grain-free, dairy-free, nightshade-free, almost AIP (Autoimmune Paleo), but still eating nuts and eggs occasionally. I was holding steady at about 122 lbs and feeling pretty good. But still, I wanted to become more fit.

I attended Paleo f(x) in May (read my awesome recap blog here), which was a game changer for me. I got to meet my heros Mark Sisson, and Josh Axe (heavy-hitters in the Paleo world) and listen to some really good discussion panels and do some HEAVY networking. This is how I earned my first blog affiliate, 2XL Premium Angus, LLC (a 100% grass-fed/finished angus ranch, which I am visiting in Iowa in a few more weeks!).

I became curious about how I could step up my exercise game and challenge myself more, so I inquired about a little something called Barre with my friend Alli from Missouri. She said it was an awesome leg and core workout. I was sooo in! I bought a ten class Groupon pass for a studio called Todd Pilates and Barre in Austin (read my blog about Barre here). After two classes, I was HOOKED. I started going twice a week, then three times. My favorite class is my Wednesday night class with Doug at the Round Rock studio. I call Doug, 'The Fireman', because he always makes us do barre to "Bun Up the Dance" by Dillon Francis every week. This song burns your calves like FIYAH. Seriously. We are on the balls of our feet for the.whole.song.doing pulses and lean-backs while balancing a squishy blue ball between our thighs. I call it the four-alarm fire song, because it's that intense, y'all! lol

So now I'm loving barre, my new Paleo way of eating, and I am blogging regularly again. I even figured out how to create email campaigns for the blog, which is how you are probably receiving this post right now ;)

I also weighed myself today for the first time in about a month and here's where I'm at:

Yeah, definitely within the healthy range! I'm now beginning to build muscle, burn fat (by cutting carbs and sugar), and I'm doing it the RIGHT way. I don't take diet pills or subscribe to the latest fad. And if you think Paleo is just a 'fad diet', it's not. Paleo has helped so many people and it isn't going anywhere as far as I'm concerned. And so says the other thousands of people from around the world who attended Paleo f(x) with me this year. Paleo has not only helped me lose weight, it has also improved my skin clarity (I have rosacea), improved my digestion, gives me a ton of energy throughout the day, my blood sugar levels are fantastic, and I don't get hangry anymore!

I love talking and reading about nutrition and exercise so much that I decided to take a leap and sign up for Mark Sisson's Primal Health Coach program. I just want to help others, and I believe this is my life's calling. I chewed on it for a while, and I finally decided to JUST DO IT (like Nike lol). I'm still keeping my merchandising job to pay the bills until I finish my coaching training, and then who knows? I'd love to be my own boss, and I'm very driven and ambitious by nature. I know how to network and talk to people, and I LOVE talking to people about their health. I talk to Type 2 diabetics, people with thyroid and autoimmune issues, and those struggling with their weight on an almost daily basis. I try to set an example for others and share the knowledge that I've gained. Bottom line: many people need help turning their health around, and I believe it's my mission to help them do that (while eventually getting paid for it lol). I already passed Module 1 of my training (molecular biology and genetics, anyone?), and I'm so ready to get started on Module 2 in a few days. Yup. Bring it.

In closing, I want to give a shoutout to my new friends Kristen (a fellow Primal Health Coach student and Girlboss in training) and Brittany, an amazing yoga instructor (just did her Sunday hot yoga class, yowza!). Love y'all!

I've even started an Austin Paleo/Primal/Keto/AIP Meetup group, and it is growing each day (currently at 45 members)! Our first Meetup is on July 2, and I'm so excited to meet more like-minded people!

So this is me now: happier, healthier, and more fit. And I'm still a work in progress. We all are. You've just got to want it, and everyone has to start somewhere, right? You've got this!

Me now! (June 2017) Paleo warrior!

I know I've shared some VERY personal information with you guys today. Why did I do it? Because I trust and value you as readers and I know what it's like to struggle. I've been to hell and back, and I've come out on top. Please contact me anytime via the blog, email (risforrachel@gmail.com) or on social media (austinpaleogrrl on Twitter and Instagram) if you ever want to learn more about the Paleo way of doin' things! I'm happy to answer any questions to the best of my ability! Also, check out the Austin Paleo Grrl page on Facebook if you haven't already. I hope you'll make the move and join my tribe!

As always, be well and THRIVE!




  1. Well written, Austin Paleo Girl. I know first hand what you have gone through in your journey. My biggest hope for you has always been for you to be healthy and happy in life. You are definitely living that now and just continue to get better and stronger. You inspire me always! With love, Mom

  2. Wow Rachel thank you so much for sharing your story!! You have come along way and you look amazing!! I love seeing all of your posts. Keep up the amazing work!! I can't wait to see what else your life has in store!! Lynnsey <3

    1. Thanks, Lynnsey!! It took a lot of courage for me to post this. I needed to get my past issues out of the way though so that I can carve out a better path for the future! ❤️

  3. I read every weird , all the way through. Yu hve been through some really tough times but persevered in a wonderful way.

    1. Thank you, dear! Doing so much better! Moving to Austin and changing my lifestyle and way of thinking has helped me tremendously! ❤️

  4. Paleo diet is one of the primitive diet but is proven effective to lose weight and keep the body healthy. The principle of paleo diet is back to nature, that is back to nature. We can eat whatever is provided by nature and should avoid processed foods like fast food and junk food.
    Fast food is more delicious, but can trigger various kinds of health problems such as obesity, distended stomach and various other diseases.
    Perhaps this is what caused the ancient humans more healthy, strong and not susceptible to disease. Because ancient food is still natural and has not been contaminated by unhealthy ingredients.
    Recommended Foods In The Paleo Diet:


My Paleo Journey: From Sick and Flabby to Fabulous!

Hey hey, y'all!! So, it's been a minute since I have been able to slay you with my delicious words (aka the avocado blog). But ala...