Once upon a time I paid absolutely no attention to what I ate. I ate anything, and lots of it. I guess I had a reasonably active enough lifestyle or good enough sense of full because while I was definitely eating unhealthily, it wasn’t making me balloon up too quickly. What I didn’t know, though, was I was clearly damaging my insides from a cholesterol perspective.
I got healthy… but it was a long road.
In early 2007 (I was 29 at the time) I got the supershock about high cholesterol from my doctor – I don’t remember my numbers, but my LDL (bad cholesterol) was >190. That number should have been in the 140 or less zone, and apparently over 160 is a red flag for meds according to my doctor. I occasionally did the blood pressure cuff at Longs or Walgreens and always came out in the pre-hypertension stages, so I got super-duper paranoid. I knew I had a family history of some heart problems. I assumed what I was doing to myself was either intake or genetic, and scientific method took over– totally limit intake and let’s see if genetics fixes it.
I went vegan for 3 months.
Holy cripes that was ridiculous. My whole philosophy was if I don’t take any cholesterol in at all then my body would have to make what it needed and it’d just balance it out. It was terrible. I was eating nothing but salads and brown rice, and I hated every second of it. I got the LDL under 140, but I wouldn’t say what I was doing was sustainable. I knew I was overweight, and that probably played into my cholesterol problems, so it was then I decided I needed to really redo my lifestyle. Julie had during this time decided to try Weight Watchers, and I thought I’d give it a shot.
I did WW for over a year, got my weight down to about 150 (my high was 190!) In terms of cholesterol, when I was at my lowest weight, my cholesterol numbers weren’t that bad, but I wouldn’t say they were that good either- my LDL was still a little high. This was annoying because the improvement there was not directly correlated with my weight. I was definitely healthier than I had been, so I took that as a victory.
Flush from my weight loss success, I attempted to self-regulate my intake for a year and ballooned back up to almost 180. I was 10 pounds away from my high-weight again before finding the Primal stuff last year and really leaning into that. By this March I’d gotten my weight down to about 165, and while I was happy to be 15 pounds down I had my cholesterol numbers run and I was very similar to when I was my lightest with WW for HDL and LDL (the “good” and “bad” cholesterol) but my triglycerides were MUCH lower… almost by a factor of 2!
I had been eating decidedly more meat and definitely more eggs (at least 2 every day) for 6 months and my cholesterol numbers had actually improved vs. when I was around 180, and since I started living primally I have effectively cut out all grains, including the magical whole grains. I’m still somewhat baffled by this, but it does validate my diet choice. While it’s true that not eating dietary cholesterol (i.e. when vegan) forces the body to make its own, there’s definitely more at play there than just direct cholesterol intake. I’m clearly having more dietary cholesterol, and even more fat than really any other point in my life, but my cholesterol numbers are stable and improving. I’m beginning to agree with one of the base Primal Living tenets which is echoed by those on the paleo diet – that the rise of commercial agriculture (i.e. grains) have a negative effect on the body, especially with respect to weight and cholesterol management. Now, I know that seems a bit new agey, but I can’t really argue with my body’s reaction thus far.
For those looking for more stuff about cholesterol, I think this page from my still-favorite website regarding living primally sums it up nicely. In short, cholesterol numbers are 1. overblown a little, and 2. more influenced by other dietary and activity factors and not just simply intake of meat or eggs. I think after a year of this, I’ll see if my cholesterol numbers really are stable or not, but for now living primally so far has had the effect of making me more healthy in terms of cholesterol and definitely weight, so I’m sticking to it.