When I started by blog, I intended to keep it anonymous. Yes, my name was attached, but there is more than one Sarah Ballantyne out there. I blogged for months before I even let my general location be known. My stick figure drawings were as much about avoiding posting photos as they were about creating a distinctive style for my blog posts. But as time has gone on, I have started to realize that, if I want my readership to continue to expand so that I can inspire and inform more people, then I cannot remain anonymous. My “credentials” lie in three areas. First, I have a Ph.D. in Medical Biophysics and performed medical research in the area of innate immunity and inflammation (not with a link to nutrition, but the background is ridiculously useful in understanding how the foods we eat impact our bodies). Second, I am a mother and face the typical challenges that paleo motherhood presents. Third, I have had a longstanding personal battle with weight and disease. I have shared some of my history (see My 120-Pound Journey to Paleo) and many of my current struggles (see Why I Want To Lower My Bodyweight Set-Point) and successes (see My Experiences With the AIP) with you. And now, it is time to share photos: “before”, “during”, and “after”.
I was an overweight teenager. This photo was taken of me in the summer of 1997 (I was 20 years old). I weighed about 265 pounds. I suffered migraines and was not drinking coffee at the time due to suspected gall bladder issues. I got frequent colds, especially during exam week. I did walk a fair bit, but was starting to feel uncomfortable in my skin. I had to hold my breath to tie my shoes. I remember feeling so left out when my friends would go for group runs together (and not even bother to ask me). I remember getting an enormous bruise on my behind just by trying to maneuver out of the backseat of a jeep when someone was nice enough to give me a ride. I started a low-carb diet in the summer of 1999, started working out excessively, and lost 100 pounds.
This picture was taken at the end of a 30km (18.5 mild) race in Hamilton, Ontario in spring 2001. I weighed about 170 pounds. I was running 14-15 hours per week, lifting weights twice per week, doing 3 hours of karate each week, walking as my main form of transportation, and playing the occasional game of squash. I enjoyed being so active (somehow overcompensating for feeling left out in my late teens and early twenties). My low-carb diet habits were slipping because the amount of exercise I was doing seemed to be enough to keep the weight off (even though I wasn’t losing any more weight and still wanted to). I had migraines, IBS with chronic constipation, frequent colds, anxiety and some mild depression (I was in graduate school).
Then, I got sick in the summer of 2002. Adult onset asthma robbed me of my active lifestyle. Between being apartment-bound for months, being on high-dose steroids, and spiraling into depression, I gained back 100 pounds over the course of a year. When I got married in summer of 2003, I weighed 235 pounds. I was in so much denial about my weight that I put off shopping for a wedding dress until 2 weeks before the wedding. My wedding dress was a size 26 (to be fair, I think I was only wearing plus-size 18-20 at the time). I think this photo is far more interesting than photos from my actual wedding because of my facial expression. That is the dress I ended up buying–it was very flattering. But, on my face you can see the conflict, how heart-breaking it was to have been so much thinner only months before and to be looking in the mirror at an obese woman. Our wedding was beautiful; but, I have kept my dress in the hopes of someday having it completely remade for a smaller me to renew our vows. I was cycling between low-carb and out-of-control binges, occasionally going on whey protein + flax oil fasts. I had migraines, IBS, acid reflux, chronic colds, asthma, allergies, lichen planus, eczema, anxiety and depression.
I continued to gain weight after that. I was now a postdoctoral fellow in a very high-profile research lab in Toronto, Ontario, doing ground-breaking medical research and working 80-100 hour weeks. I stopped weighing myself after 260 pounds and always assumed that I gained 10-15 more pounds after that based on the fact that I went up an entire clothing size (or was it two?). However, when I look at this picture, taken the summer of 2004, I think I may have been underestimating how heavy I was at my biggest. Until now, I’ve always said that I was 265-270 pounds at my biggest. But now, I think I was pushing 300 pounds. I was wearing plus-size 26 clothes. I was miserable. I dyed my hair crazy colors to compensate for low self-esteem. I started being behind the camera and there are very few photos of me from this point on (even now, it has become habit that I am the one who holds the camera). I had migraines, IBS, acid reflux, chronic colds, asthma, allergies, lichen planus, eczema, anxiety, depression, borderline high blood pressure, borderline high triglycerides, and borderline high insulin levels. I was eating whatever I wanted and would get ridiculously defensive if anyone (even my husband) even sounded remotely critical of my food choices.
I lost some weight when we first moved to Arizona. The slower pace of my second postdoctoral fellowship and the sun were very restorative. I stopped dying my hair because I became so violently allergic to the dyes. I was down to 255 pounds when I got pregnant with our first daughter. I had gestational diabetes during the pregnancy. Between the diet limitations forced upon me and the pregnancy-induced changes to my appetite, I lost 2 pounds overall during my pregnancy. Even still, it wasn’t until I was about 7.5 months pregnant that you could really tell without a doubt that I was actually pregnant and not just fat (the picture on the right is me at 6.5 months pregnant, trying to show off my belly). My daughter’s birth was long (labor was 97-hours) and complicated. We avoided an emergency C-section by minutes (and only because we had an amazing midwife). After our daughter was born, I was too exhausted to do much other than survive (oh the colic!), but I did keep my weight steady around 230 pounds.
When my first daughter was 1 year old, I realized that I had prediabetes. I became very strict about eating low-carb, fueled by fear of a lifetime with diabetes combined with a desire to be a good role model for my daughter. Over the next year, I got back down to 165 pounds. The picture on the left is me shortly before I found the strength to get control over my diet. The picture on the right was the birthday I had a year later, shortly before getting pregnant with our second daughter (around 170 pounds in that picture). I was lighter, but I was still plagued with IBS, acid reflux, migraines, lichen planus, eczema, mild anxiety and depression, very frequent colds, asthma and allergies. My blood pressure and cardiovascular risk factors were normal and the prediabetes was gone.
I gained 60 pounds with my second pregnancy but didn’t have diabetes and had a much easier labor and delivery (yes, I do call 20 hours with pitocin and no drugs easier). And it was obvious that I was pregnant and not just fat by 5 months (in the picture on the left, I was 7.5 months pregnant)! Neither of my daughters are sleepers (for different physiological reasons, and not a reflection of my parenting style). I struggled to lose weight after my second daughter was born, but did manage to get back to 165 pounds eventually (around the 1 year mark; I weighed about 190 pounds in the picture on the right and struggled for months before I could successfully lose the pregnancy weight).
This picture was taken of me only a few weeks before I started paleo. I had plateaued at 165 pounds for nearly a year. I was much more active, doing yoga three times per week and playing actively with my kids. My moods were better, probably owing to spending more time outside with my kids. But I still wasn’t healthy and my lichen planus was starting to flare worse than any previous flare.
And here are the after photos. Nine months after starting paleo. My weight has plateaued at 148 pounds. I am strong and flexible from regular yoga practice. My migraines, IBS, acid reflux, asthma, allergies, eczema, anxiety, depression, and frequent colds are gone. My lichen planus is healing without any treatment other than following the Autoimmune Protocol. When you look at me doing yoga poses (especially in the middle photo where I’m doing triangle pose), you can clearly see the extra skin and stubborn fat that I still have. I may not be where I want to be ultimately, but I think you can also see that I am healthy and that I am happy.
This is me: Sarah Ballantyne, a.k.a. The Paleo Mom! I have always claimed to losing 120-pounds. But I wonder now if it was really more than that, now that I have unearthed these long-buried photos of me at my biggest. If you knew me back then, would you recognize me now? I carried so much weight in my face that the difference is very dramatic (I once had to talk a border guard into believing my passport photo was actually me). So, now you have seen my before, during and after photos. You have seen my journey. And it’s nice to meet you!