Why:  Brooke’s Story    Why I strive to live healthfully:

Hello InDependent readers! I am so excited to be able to write this piece and share a little of my journey with you. I want to be super honest and candid in this post so let me give you some really personal background.

I was depressed and overweight most of my life. As a teenager I was tired. Really, really tired. I didn’t hate life, but I really didn’t enjoy it much either. I was never bullied, but I never felt like I fit in. I could barely get out of bed most days. And the tiredness didn’t stop when I hit my 20s. It continued for many years. I didn’t finish my college education, mostly because I just didn’t have the energy to put into it. I was still overweight. I had graduated high school at about 200 pounds (on a 5’4”frame) and stayed there until I got pregnant at 26.

My beautiful son was born when I was 27. My pregnancy was wonderful and amazing. The 60 pounds I put on during that pregnancy were not wonderful. But, after delivery, 40 of those pounds came off quickly. That was it. I was stuck at 221 pounds, the heaviest I have ever been. I was never too bothered by my looks when I was overweight. I always thought I was beautiful thanks to my mother who ingrained a healthy self-image in me from the beginning. But I was beyond exhausted. I could sleep 12 hours and still be tired. This was NOT how I wanted to live.

I joined Weight Watchers and lost 20 pounds quickly. Cool. But I was still 200 pounds and still exhausted. I could not lose anymore weight even though I was staying within my points every day. It was not working. “There has got to be something I’m missing”, I thought. I started talking to people about it and reading about health. One thing I realized was that I had all the signs of irritable bowel syndrome. For days on end I would not be able to go to the bathroom, and then for days on end I couldn’t stay out of the bathroom. (Yes, it’s really okay to talk about poop!) What was going on?!

Someone I talked to had been having the same problem. She suggested reading the book Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis. I got the book, read it, and started listening to my body. I cut out all gluten-containing grains including wheat, rye, and barley. I lost 10 pounds in that first month! That was so exciting. But the thing that was even more exciting? Within two months I was able to go off of my anti-depressants. After over 10 years, I was no longer on medication. That is when life started to get amazing.

before | after

I felt so great, I started doing even more research on this way of eating. Instead of replacing those gluten-containing grains with gluten-free versions (such as switching to gluten-free bread or rice pasta and crackers) I just left them out. I started eating red sauce on spaghetti squash and eating my sandwiches on lettuce. Please don’t think I cut calories. I was eating even more calories than before and still losing weight and feeling amazing. That is when I started reading about a type of nutrition called Paleo. That’s what I was doing already.

Some see the word Paleo and think “Oh no, not another diet!”. I promise that’s not what it is. Paleo is a template which starts with eating REAL food, and you adjust it to what your body is comfortable with. So I eat a lot of vegetables, grass-fed or pastured protein, and healthy fats. I eat some nuts, fruits, and seeds. I avoid grains and dairy for the most part as they don’t really make me feel great. Paleo is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Every body is different and tolerates different things. For me, Paleo means really considering what I am eating. I ask myself, “What is this food going to do for my body?” Could I eat a bowl of rice for its carbohydrate benefit? Probably. But I could eat a starchy vegetable such as a sweet potato and not only get some great carbs but some awesome vitamins as well. I could eat that egg white and get some protein, but if I eat the yolks too I’m getting all the nutrients and healthy fats that I would otherwise be missing.

What has life been like since I made these changes? I’ve lost a total of over 40 pounds (and still working on it). Great, right? That’s not even the best part! I have been off my depression medication for almost four years. I was able to finish my college education and graduate summa cum laude as well as get into graduate school. My passion for nutrition also led me to a job I’d never even dreamed possible. I am the lead social media coordinator for Diane Sanfilippo, a holistic nutritionist and two-time New York Times Bestselling author of Practical Paleo and The 21-Day Sugar Detox. And most importantly, I have the energy and happiness to be the wife and mother I always wanted to be.

If I could give you one piece of advice it would just be to THINK. Food either creates health, or decreases health. Which one will you choose?