My Transformation

June 16, 2012 in Categories: by

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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!


I want to say thank you for sharing your journey and your photos. They are very inspiring.
I have been struggling with my weight and health most of my life. Last year I switched from doing Weight Watchers to living a very basic Paleo lifestyle. I lost between 30 and 40 pounds that year and felt a LOT better. Since then I have been struggling and dealing with what I guess is called “Paleo Faleo”. I have gained back between 5 and 10 of those pounds and have 40 still to lose before I am at healthy weight I would like to reach.
I have all sorts of excuses and reasons why I am failing at it. I do have adrenal fatigue which makes it difficult but, mostly it is my family only being partially on board (and that it is only some of the time). Also we keep a very busy calendar between the 4 of us and finding the time to prep meals is very hard at best some days.
I get so down on myself because although I know Paleo works and I know I feel better I just can’t stay on track. I see your (and others) success and how strong you are in your choices. How do you find the strength and fortitude to stick with it in today’s commercially strong society?

It can be really tough to make healthy choices when you’re family is not on board. I’m helped by the fact that my family is paleo, I do all of the shopping and the cooking. I’m also helped by the fact that my body is completely non-forgiving when it comes to non-paleo foods. Feeling so horrible if I stray helps me stay on track. That doesn’t mean that I always make the best decisions, but when I do eat sub-optimal foods, it’s usually nuts or chocolate, which cause me problems but take time to build up an effect. I do find it much easier to make good choices when I’ve had enough sleep and am being proactive about managing stress.

Thanks for sharing your story Sarah. I have recently started on Paleo for weightloss, but have gained more than that, my sleeping is better, my migraines have disappeared, I generally feel better. Living in Australia there is not a lot of products to enable an allround Paleo life and so I’m in the midst of researching what I’ll have to do to make my own products like coconut flour etc. I’m also trying to slowly transfer the kids and hubby over, which I believe my eldest child will benefit from as he has aspergers.
Thanks for all your knowledge

I am not a person who is easily “moved” by other people’s stories, but i find my self in tears after reading this. In your “before” pictures I see my self. In your “after” pictures I see a beautiful, amazing, happy, healthy woman! All of the things I want to be for myself and, like you, for my daughters. I plan to begin a paleo diet and lifestyle in hopes of becoming healthier and one day seeing that same light in my own eyes. Thank you for sharing your journey!

Can I ask what info did you follow to start this way of eating please ? Iv been looking n Iv looked at that much my heads little confused with wat to eat n snacks etc

You just told my life story :/ I literally just did the wedding thing… Dress 2 weeks before… & I am starting to get healthy “again”…Thanks for telling your story. At least I know I’m not the only one that feels that way & that goes from one extreme to the other. Wishing you all the best & continued success!

Do you have more info on the diet? I have yo yo’d my entire life. Tragedy after tragedy and just life has been tough. I need to do this.

Actually scrolled back up and found the answer to my question. This is very inspiring. Trusting the Lord to help me do this.

I’ve been following your blog for a while now. I really love your recipes but I didn’t know your story and I’m so impressed.
I’ve been carrying 40 extra pounds since having my daughter and I’ve been having a hard time getting back on the paleo wagon. You have just inspired me to try harder. Thank you!

Thanks for your inspiration Sarah! My mom had lichen planus for years, including in her mouth. Sadly she ended up with tongue cancer and passed away last summer. We cannot help but wonder if that nasty lichen planus promoted the tongue cancer. I am so thankful that your lichen planus is gone!!!!!!! It is a big deal….thanks for sharing your story and recipes!

You look so beautiful. So bright and healthy. Please don’t say bad things about yourself-that there is extra and skin. Enjoy the body gave has given you and remember where you came from!

Aloha Sarah, Thank you for your inspiring story. I have been following you for a month now and finding great differences. I am 71 years and have had autoimmune problems most(all) of my life. I have been able to stop taking arthuritis medication already. Both my husband and I are carefully following Paleo and you make it fun as well as IT WORKS!!!!
You look so happy and wonderful.

Thank you thank you and Mahalo

You are so inspiring! I am 22 years old, and I have always lived an active lifestyle. However, I have noticed in the recent year that weight has been creeping up on me, and I became very depressed because I was exercising everyday, but I kept gaining weight. I realized that it was my diet. I used to be able to eat anything and everything, exercise, and not gain a pound! I realized I had to change my bad eating habits- I had carbs with every meal and barely any veggie. I started a paleo diet and was noticeably less bloated and puffy in a week, but then I slipped up and went back to eating my old ways. It has been an up and down rollercoaster, but I am more motivated now to stick to it because of my upcoming wedding. Thanks for the support and ideas!

[…] My Transformation » The Paleo Mom – So, now you have seen my before, during and after photos. You have seen my journey. … You can read more about Sarah’s personal journey to Paleo here and see more before and after photos here. […] Reply. Stephanie … I started a paleo diet and was noticeably less bloated and puffy … […]

So inspiring. Thank you for posting. I needed this tonight! I’ve just been diagnosed with PCOS this last week and my doctor has recommended a paleo diet. I needed this tonight, thank you.

Sarah–your story is my story–if only I had found a way to transform EARLIER!!! I have tears in my eyes reading this!! I am also 5’6″ I also plateaued at around 276 pounds (but maybe more. I have a picture too where I don’t look a lick under 300). I gained and lost 60 of it twice, but for the majority of my adult life from age 18 to age 43, I was in the mid-200’s.

Like you, I was active even though I was fat, and successful in other areas of my life, but unlike you I let my fat keep me from dating. I never found anyone. My autoimmune condition (which I just found out WAS autoimmune LAST WEEK! Tara Grant wrote the book on it, literally, which I just read!) is Hidradenitis Suppurativa, and it was humiliatingly devastating to my body image self-esteem.

Like you, I got into shape by becoming fit and active and cutting out the sugar and the wheat. Like you, I lost 120 pounds (or more–who knows!?). For me, though, it happened two years ago, at age 43!!!! And by the way my HS went away. I never understood exactly why but I was soooooo grateful. I almost didn’t want to think about why–I didn’t want to “jinx” it. Now with Tara’s book The Hidden Plague I know EXACTLY why!

Like you, I got into running (L.A. Marathon, 2013!) and like you I plateaued at 165 pounds for over a year. Seriously, this is getting creepy, isn’t it! In fact, I’m still plateaued there. I had skin removal surgery and a breast lift (and the results were LIFE-CHANGINGLY AWESOME!!!).

I have been trying a ketogenic diet to try to get these last 28 pounds off (I have actually GAINED twelve pounds from my lowest weight of 156 right before surgery last November) and reach my FOREVER GOAL of 140.

I’ve bought your autoimmune book and am just about to read it. I’ve heard your podcasts not recommending keto. So far I the program seems to suit me well EXCEPT for a very very big problem: it has given me INSOMNIA!!!! I’ve never dealt with insomnia before in my entire life and it is rather devastating. So I’ve been considering going paleo instead of keto. Something in me just won’t let me give the idea up for good, though. My instincts seems to be running in two separate directions.

I’m in your boat. We two have come SOOO far–but these elusive last pounds to true athletic slimness are rather maddening. Like yours, my body seems to be sticking to this 160’s set-point with eager desperation (last October when I hit the mid-50’s I had just trained for a triathlon and was doing heavy weights. Now my weights are limited a bit because after my surgery I’m not allowed to work the chest. Events conspire against my slim-muscular dream, but I shall persevere!).

I just felt drawn to share my story with you because it is AMAZING to me to find my success-story-doppelganger. And thank GOD you figured yourself out earlier than I did. I LOVE my life today. My only regret is that I waited so long. But I don’t dwell on that often. Mostly I am filled with passionate GRATITUDE for the second chance to live. I intend to do it.

Cheers to you, Sarah!!! :-)

Michelle G.

This story made me cry. I am, right now, at the largest I’ve ever been. I’m 15 lbs heavier than the day I checked into the hospital to give birth to my 3rd child. It’s heartbreaking and depressing. I am attempting to do Paleo but I’m struggling. I work full time, go to school full time, and have 3 children. Reading this story gave me hope. I’m glad I found your site and I’m glad you have shared your success.

Kateri, I know this is late, and hopefully you have been able to make things work, but just looking at what you have on your plate makes me wince. Each one of the things you mention — work, school, and three children — demands a full-time commitment. I know some people manage — somehow — to juggle all of that, but for those of us with health issues, including being over-weight, stress is a huge factor. You can’t give up your children, but is there any way to cut back on one or both of the others? Maybe work part time and go to school part time? Or post-pone going back to school until you have your health in better condition? Or something?

Hi Sarah,

I’ve been looking over your site for a few days. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism when I was 19 (um, well OVER a decade ago). I also developed severe migraines around that time.

A few years later, I was informed my “specific” kind of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s. The doctor was emotionally upset (more so than I!) when she told me I’d need to take my meds for the rest of my life. I had already assumed this when my original diagnosing doctor said my thyroid was basically “not working at all”.

Having always been overweight (I was 180 lbs. at 11 years old!) and fighting to lose weight — or even stop gaining it — I’m no stranger to meal programs and calorie-restriction. I’ve done everything from NoDiet, to Weight Watchers (unofficially), LA Weight Loss, modified Atkins (the egg/bacon/grapefruit diet — which, now, I’m seeming to understand why I could never do it for more than 2 weeks at a time), to exclusion diets (i.e. no red meat for a year, no meat for a month, no chocolate for a year) to starvation. Nothing works for longer than 30 lbs. Yes, that’s right….I can lose about 30 lbs. and then I plateau….and become intolerably ill of whatever I’m doing (light bulbs are going off now, thanks to your information).

Skip ahead to now, and my health is deteriorating at a rate that even an 80-year-old would be in shock of. I have numerous autoimmune disorders: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, PCOS w/metabolic syndrome and Type II diabetes, fibromyalgia, IBS. Plus, I’m also iron and vitamin-D deficient (controlled through supplements, but without them I’d be in trouble). I also have such severe widespread pain, somewhat caused by a back injury I had many years ago that most likely enabled me to get where I am now — so completely unhealthy.

When I look around me, I see people larger than me (I’m overweight – okay, obese – but I’m not a gigantic person) living happy, healthy lifestyles. Doctors tell me, “Just lose weight, and all your health problems will go away.” But NOBODY ever gives me a way HOW to make it work. They automatically assume I’m out at McDonald’s and KFC every day, when the reality is I’m eating half as much as other people (and usually not terribly unhealthy food) in an effort to reduce my size.

After the last round at the doctors, I decided there had to be another way. I gave up fried foods completely a few months ago and noticed an improvement somewhat. My glasses just changed prescriptions in the fall, and I already can’t see again. Sleeping is a challenge as I wake up every hour or two, struggling to find a comfortable position. Eating is a joke, literally. If I eat healthy, it kills my stomach just as badly as if I’d eaten fried junk. Where I am now, I’m halfway convinced I’m on the road to developing MS if I don’t find a solution.

Then I came across a post on friend’s Facebook feed. It was a recipe for nightshade-free enchiladas. What caught my attention was the word “nightshade”. I’d never heard it before, and I connected it to “lampshade”. I clicked on the recipe to see what it was talking about.

Since that article – about four days ago – I have been pouring over your site and other information about nightshades and the AIP. I’ve read about “leaky gut syndrome”, and I don’t need a test to tell me I have this. In fact, I’ve noticed on two recent cultures that I’ve had candida infections.

My only issue at this point is my location. I live in Oman, and it’s hard to find a doctor that will understand all of these issues and know what to do. Furthermore, the protocol is difficult due to the unavailability of many of the items I need to incorporate (i.e. grass-fed meats, healthy organic fruits and veggies that aren’t ASTRONOMICALLY expensive, etc.).

But, I am now positive this is the direction I need to go. I will do the best with the meats I can find (ironically, my body craves meat to a fault – when I was pregnant, I could’ve eaten an entire cow, alive) and work with the foods I CAN and SHOULD eat.

I only wish SOMEBODY…ONE DOCTOR….over the course of 20+ years would have told me, “Hey, it’s not just about eating healthy. We think you may need to focus on THIS.”

I know the Paleo diet is rather new (well, to me, anyway). I know research is still happening. But I also know my body. And I’m tired of “weight” being the answer.

While I’m very sad legumes are not allowed (I love beans as a meat replacement), I will gladly give them up to feel healthy and be alive.

I see your picture at the end of this post. I see the light shining in your eyes and radiating from your face. I want that for myself. I want to be that person again.

Hi there, thanks for sharing your history and the pictures. I really love them…because they show me how you have been before Paleo and that it CAN be possible! There are so many good looking women on the internet who praise the Paleo Diet but noone dares to show pictures from before. I am so glad that you had the strength to do so! Thank you! I will try out my very best to go for it..and I am really looking forward to do it!

I am at work and I just weighed myself. I am 197 pounds, 5’2, a mom of a 10, 2, and, 1 year old whom I am still breastfeeding. After I weighed myself today, I did a wiki search on how to lose ten pounds in a month as we are going on vacation. It lead me to a link on how to lose 20 lbs in a month, which lead me to the Paleo diet. I began researching because I wasn’t familiar with this. I found ur blog and now I am convinced. I need to try this! I want to be healthy! Thank you for tour blog. O am in school and we are learning about the body in anatomy. The more we get into the class the more I realize how I am destroying my body. I want a passion for healthy, pure living not just spiritually bit physically. I am lacking on the latter. I will try this lifestyle for the sake of my heart and my health. I have hypertension controlled by medication which I don’t want to take. I am also prediabetic and have bad acne. I know that these things are hereditary but are exasperated by the way that I eat. I am convinced from ur blog that this is worth a try. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you so much for all the information on your site, and for sharing your story. It’s been 17 years since I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism after the birth of my daughter. My health and self esteem has been mostly down, with a few ups here and there. Last year I began the GAPS diet, and started to feel better. But I fell back into eating popcorn, gluten free bakery items and sugar and gained back the weight I lost. Now my teenage daughter is starting to gain weight, and it is literally breaking my heart. I am determined not to let her life be ruined as mine was. We are starting the Paleo for Autoimmune diseases TODAY, and this time when I start to feel better I am going to remind myself that this is forever, like my love for my daughter is forever.

Does Sarah consult? I read through the Bios of the consultants, but due to Sarah’s very rigorous scientific, health research background, I would love to have a consult with her. Is that possible? Thank you

Thank you for sharing your story. I started AIP last September, 2014, and quickly dropped 33 pounds and have been stuck there ever since. Lately I have been completely off the program and feeling terrible. I know the program works I was able to dop seveal medications by following AIP then Paleo and was feeling so much better. Then my Dr lowered my Thyroid med and everything started to spiral out of control. Depression set in and I went to food for comfort. I havent gaind the weigt back yet but I feel terrible. So I logged into your blog to get a renewed insperation and I found it!!! Thank you so much!

Thank you for sharing. I look like your heaviest “before” picture. I, too, suffer from a laundry list of health problems. Right now, my whole body hurts from inflammation. Thank you for reminding me it’s never too late to start again.

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