Let me first start by saying that for those with various medical concerns, especially autoimmune conditions, eating a Paleo diet can drastically improve their health and circumstances. For others, eating in a strict, whole foods-based manner may actually provide them with a lot of freedom. I absolutely respect these things.

However, for my personal wellness, eating strictly Paleo was one of the unhealthiest decisions I had ever made. 

Starting in January of my freshman year in college and continuing to December of my sophomore year, I was a harsh dictator of my food consumption. I banned gluten, grains that didn’t contain gluten, processed oils, dairy, fried foods, refined sugars, and all dessert except for 100% dark chocolate (yes, that type of bar exists, and it is bitter). I preached to anyone who would listen about why grains were “bad for me” and why I would never eat them again. 

I ate eggs, fruit, and spinach for breakfast just about every single day. Going out to eat caused me so much stress. Not even because of my legitimate allergies to tomatoes, soy, and dairy, but more because I was nervous that I would not be able to find a meal that fit the bill of being grain, processed oil, and refined sugar-free. 


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On the rare occasion that I did go out to eat, the only section of the menu that I ever spent a few seconds glancing at was the “Salad” portion, and I’d always order the same thing: “Can I do your Cobb Salad with no tomato, peppers, or bleu cheese? I’m allergic. May I add grilled chicken, too? And instead of the dressing, can I do olive oil on the side? Oh, and no croutons, please.”

While I was still living in my freshman dorm, I spent so much money on plantain chips, paleo-friendly granolas, paleo hot cereals, and nut butter jars (but definitely no peanut butter, as peanuts are legumes and legumes are not Paleo).

On road trips, I’d get so frustrated that the only snacks I “could” eat were unsalted almonds, as all of the trail mixes had cranberries that contained added sugar and cashews that were roasted in soybean and safflower oils.

I’d bring my own breakfast of eggs and avocado to the coffee shop when my friends wanted to go for tea and bagels.

I did not drink anything aside from black coffee, tea, unsweetened almond milk, the occasional green smoothie, and lots of water.

On the surface, it appeared that I was a beacon of optimal health and wellness. Dig a little deeper, though, and this was in no way the truth. 

After a dinner of grilled chicken or salmon, sweet potatoes, and salad (the usual), when no-one else was around I would sneak back into the kitchen. With a spoon in hand, in less than 10 minutes I’d devour more than 1/3 of the almond butter jar. The dark chocolate bar, unopened the day before, would now be almost finished. My self-control needed an outlet of freedom, where it could take a break from resisting every other temptation that passed me by, day in and day out. 


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I tried to bake paleo-friendly treats made with coconut/almond four and no sweeteners,  except for a tiny bit of maple syrup. They always turned out slightly unpleasant, but I ate them all anyways because they fit into my dietary requirements. I needed some type of release.  

I tried so hard to make me work with paleo, whereas I should have made paleo, or whatever diet I felt good with, work for me. In this year of rigidity, I lost sight of what worked well for my body and what foods made me mentally and emotionally happy. 

For an entire year, I cared way too much about avoiding all foods on the “not paleo” list and about finding the “healthiest”, most nutrient-dense meals possible. I was not nearly enough focused on establishing a well-rounded, balanced lifestyle surrounding food. 

In January 2016, despite my fears screaming at me that oats, rice, and quinoa were “bad for me”, I began reintroducing grains into my diet. Now, as I approach almost one year of being rules-of-paleo-free, I’ve found joy in eating again.

Little by little, I’ve been able to let go of all dietary restrictions (aside from my legitimate allergies, of course). I’m not as strict about sugar or refined oils, I don’t stress over eating at restaurants, and I’ll even eat the gluten-filled cupcake or cookie once in a while. 


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One of the best parts? I no longer practice the awful habit of bingeing, on obscene amounts of almond butter or anything else. As soon as I allowed myself the freedom to find more balance and variety within other areas of my diet, the habit organically ceased to exist. I didn’t need it anymore. Life is good. 

It’s become my priority to eat what I want, when I’m feeling hungry. Most often, this results in a nutrient-dense bowl packed with protein (animal or plant now, because rice and beans are back on the table!), greens, healthy fats, and some gluten-free grains or starchy vegetables. I no longer put in so much effort to eat healthfully because of what the Internet or some podcaster told me, that X foods have the most vitamins and are the best for us. I eat the way I do now because this intuitively makes me feel good. Healthy food nourishes my mind, body, and spirit. 

What I wish I could tell my old, paleo self now is this: no diet, no matter how health-promising it may seem, that induces anxiety, binge-eating, or a highly restrictive/degrading mentality is not a positive approach to health. 

For anyone who’s going through a similar restrictive, stressful struggle like I did, let me tell you that it gets better. I empower you to experiment with a variety of foods — seriously, eat the entire damn rainbow. Please know that it is 100% okay to not base your diet on a set of specific guidelines that some health book or program emphasizes. I really do believe that optimal health and a healed restrictive mentality can be achieved through exploration with food, as this will lead to the creation of a highly customized eating approach that works perfectly for you.

Bio-individuality, friends. This is where health truly lives.


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About The Author

Hannah is a third-year at Northeastern University in Boston. A yogi, chocolate & coffee lover, and grocery store aficionado, she writes recipes, college advice, and skincare reviews on wholesomelyhannah.com (ah on Insta).

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