Hello. I've done some research on the Paleo diet, and it seems pretty good. I'm considering starting a more lax version of Paleo, like including dairy and fruits and starchy foods (Perfect Health Diet?).
I had an eating disorder when I went down to 95 lbs a few years ago, and am now somewhere around 140-145 lbs at 5'4 after a few years of yo-yoing and finally deciding to let go of the rules and rituals and counting calories and exercising for the sake of burning calories.
Although I'm glad that I finally let go and really ate loads and loads (which I believe allowed my metabolism to recover from all the abuse I subjected it to), I feel like frequently eating junk foods is stopping me from feeling my best and most energized. I also believe that the eating disorder triggered an intolerance to gluten. Hence, I want to give Paleo a shot, not to lose weight but to feel good and strong and stay healthy, and don't want to be very rigid about it because of my past.
I have a few questions now. Has anyone else been in my position before and adopted a Paleo-ish diet successfully, without controlling amount of food and just eating to appetite?
Is only moderate strength training 2x a week enough activity for health?
I can't afford grass-fed meats and despise organ meats (except pork pate)... how much of a problem is this, health-wise?
EDIT: Thanks to everyone who has answered, it really has been great advice and I will take everything into consideration. I will not go strict Paleo but focus on eat more wholesome foods without forbidding anything I like in particular.
I notice you mentioned you've never been to therapy- I think any change in diet with a history of eating disorder without any support is going to have an enormous amount of risk. I don't mean that in a fear-mongering or discouraging way, because I do believe that proper nourishment of the body goes a long way to facilitating the healing process, but I mean get support. I am a really strong believer in group therapy, and encourage it for anyone that has ever suffered a full blown eating disordered, simple preoccupation with food, or any patterns of disordered eating. I think without therapy, changing your diet and even moving forward from the point you are now, will be unnecessarily challenging and stressful. I had an eating disorder for three years and just "walked away" like you did, completely by myself. I was fine and felt great for months, until a challenge came my way and I attempted too many changes at once, then I spiraled into the worst disordered eating and self abuse I had even experienced. After going to group therapy, I can say that this is what a LOT of people (I would cautiously say that a majority) experience some sort of similar "relapse". You don't have to commit to go forever, and it won't "hold you back" or bring you towards disordered eating again, but it is something I think everyone should try first and foremost before implementing any changes.
At this point, I would be worried that navigating a major dietary change that does include restriction (maybe restriction of "bad" things, but it's still restriction) without support would be ill advised. I know that doctors only see numbers on a scale sometimes to determine if you are health or not healthy, which is why some "normal weight" and above according to the BMI people slip through the cracks. This can make it seem like "well, I don't really need help if I never made it to that small". I think this is a major misconception, and a challenge for the medical system to deal with this huge group of people that get missed. That is why I loved group therapy- you get to see people of every shape and size, people who have such a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and you just build this support network so quickly. If you find the thought of group therapy overwhelming, look for a personal therapist or counselor- talk to your school/university/college counselor or doctor about referral or a map on where to go from here.
After all that, I do believe that the Perfect Health Diet would be a great choice for you (just enough flexibility, and the opportunity for many adjustments for a changing metabolism). Just, I can't recommend with a good conscious that you jump into any changes without adequate support!
I would talk to your therapist and anyone else who has treated you for an eating disorder first. If you can find a paleo-friendly dietician or at least a gluten-free friendly dietician, that would be even better. Paleo can be great for healing and I think The Perfect Health Diet is probably a great choice for you, but it can also trigger disordered eating habits. You might just want to try a gluten-free processed-junk free diet first, but make sure to stock up with easy to make foods first so you don't find yourself skipping meals again.
I would attempt this with the mindset that you are "eating naturally" and nourishing your body, rather than dig into all the articles that others here tend to talk about: hormones, ancestral eating, toxins, etc. Focus on the positives of the paleo foods, rather than the dangers of the non-paleo foods. I think HOW you view food is just as important as WHAT you eat. I know it helps me to visualize how the food is good for me...some imagery might help you look at food in a positive way.
I'd also suggest continuing with any therapy if you are currently receiving any. I cringe a little when people think that paleo is a cure-all to mental illness. Don't get me wrong, it can be a great first step. But I also know how gripping an eating disorder is...and how it isn't always just about "eat nourishing foods and your food problems will disappear after your brain chemistry balances out." I know it's about feeling empty, societal standards, feelings of control, anxiety, perfectionism, loneliness, trauma, low self-worth, etc. If you don't tackle these areas as well, eating paleo isn't going to cure you mentally.
I'm glad you are taking the steps to try and live a healthy life. It isn't going to be easy, but I see a lot of motivation in you to be healthy. You deserve to have a life with a healthy relationship with food.
I will tell you that I cannot "listen to my body's cues" regarding hunger and satiety. I base my foods off of old meal plans, and do it with a paleo twist. I think someone freshly new out of recovery might benefit from some sort of plan to make sure they are getting all that they need. It is easy to take a second and convince yourself that, "Oh, I don't really need that, X says too much X is bad" and do it more and more and lose control. Or if you have ever binged, it is easy to tell yourself, "Oh, fat isn't bad, I'll have just a little more" and before you know it, you're knee-deep in a week's worth of fat and drowning in depression. Oftentimes, people with EDs need a little time before intuition kicks in. Until then, I think you should try to be objective in making sure you are feeding your body what it needs.
Congratulations on your recovery! I'd focus more on a whole foods type diet, with an emphasis on plants (veggies, fruits, unprocessed carbs). A lot of paleo is hypochondriacal, and will likely have you fearing food more than appreciating it. A whole foods approach is healthy no matter what. Eat all the food groups in moderation so long as they are all unprocessed and organic whenever possible.
I would not get so stuck on strict Paleo. I would research the diet 'blue zone' people consume. There are 4 recognized 'blue zones' in the world where people live much longer (4X the rate of centurians) and have better quality of life (autonomous in old age, never put into constant care) when compared to the United States.
Blue zone diets are under 2000 calories per day, focus on organic/unprocessed foods, and primarily vegetarian. They eat 2 deck of card sized servings of meat per week. The majority of their protein comes from dairy, nuts, and beans. Being in four different global regions, their specific diets vary considerably. This is nice because it allows for flexibility. :) One such place in South America eats corn tortillas with every meal. I like corn tortillas.
As to your comment about moderate strength training...you need to always push yourself to force adaptation. Whether it's lift one more pound, perform one more set, or whatever; every time you perform a work out you should be setting a PR. Unless if you are satisfied with your current level of fitness and are simply maintaining.
Happy hunting. :)