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I Failed, Gained 15 Pounds and Saved my Life

I Failed, Gained 15 Pounds and Saved my Life (Or Something)

The one thing that we talk about most in this community is how to be in hormone balance. How to be fertile. How to enjoy being a woman instead of constantly fighting the basic facts of natural womanhood.

Every day I send emails to women making recommendations regarding food choices, lab tests, and self-love and body image issues. I thought it perhaps best, then, to share with you the differences I have experienced at different points in my life regarding my hormone balance.

Pre-weight loss; pre-exercise-binger; pre-paleo

As an adolescent and very young adult, I had some but not extreme acne. I weighed 137 pounds at my “heaviest,” which at 5’2 is approximately a size 7, and on my larger days a 9. I was also quite stressed out so did not menstruate super regularly, but still menstruated on a fairly regular basis. My periods were not always, though sometimes, incredibly painful, and lasted approximately 6-8 days. I do not have any good photos from the time (and I deleted off of my facebook any of the ones that actually showed my body fatness… choosing to leave tagged only those photos that were most flattered). But here is what I looked like, more or less:



(College “I’m drunk meditating on the side of the road in Beijing” phase)



(College “I’m dressed as a fairy holding the ‘make out’ hat” and “this photo is actually super flattering” phase)

Yet I dug up one from another angle in which I appear a bit less flat:


(Yes, I’m kissing someone, not a phase.)


(College  “I’m a crunchy hippy” phase)


Enter “success”

In the fall of 2009 I finally achieved the momentum I needed on my low fat, low calorie, vegetarian diet, 90-minute-sprint-workouts-every-day regimen to shrink down to, at my lowest, I think I was probably around 105 pounds. I bounced back up to 115 for the next few years but I still wore size zero, 25 inch waist pants.

In this time period, I experienced:

-the complete cessation and continued absence of anything resembling a sex drive

-an vagina that was, all of the time, as dry as Oscar Wilde (if not more so-if such a thing is possible)

-a completely absent menstrual cycle

-cystic acne

-constant hunger (though I did not know it at the time since I had yet to experience the real cycle of intuitive eating yet)

These five bullet points might not look like much – but when you’re a woman who prided herself on her voracious sex drive and then it completely vanished, and you became infertile, and had acne… the thing was, I always suspected that my weight was to blame for my acne, at least in part, but I always thought it still worth the trade off. I’d rather have acne and be thin than be fat with clear skin.


This is what I looked like in this time period:


(“I cover my face because the sun burns my acne” phase)


(“I have eight pack abs, so what, b*tches?” phase)


(“Thigh gap!” phase)


(“Holy crap I’m so comfortable in this tiny body please don’t take it away” phase)


Lots of women probably menstruate at the size I was in the photos above. They probably had sex drives. I did not. All I had managed was to salvage my skin, mostly by reducing the fiber and protein contents of my diet, as well as by adding a topical probiotic to my daily regimen and ceasing to use conventional soaps and such. I had also managed to ovulate a few times, mostly by radically reducing stress or by having a particularly potent sexual encounter, but I did not have a true menstrual cycle, not by a long shot.

I also ate paleo the whole time, so anyone who says all you need to be healthy is a paleo diet is woefully uninformed.


Enter “failure”

Then came a time in which I prioritized my work and energy over everything else, and was extraordinarily stressed out. I gained weight. fast. And surprise of surprises, I menstruated. (Literally, it smacked me right out of the blue.) My sex drive had steadily increased up until that day, and has remained not just “oh thank god sex doesn’t disgust me anymore” or “well sure I’ll kiss you I guess” but “holy crap I want to do it now” since then. I have continued to cycle since. And my skin has cleared, almost entirely (to be fair: my stress has also been radically reduced), and I have, to my mingled dismay/resignation/fear/acceptance, continued to gain weight.

This is what a Stefani that can menstruate looks like:

AJP (C) --38

(“I’m such a big deal I do photoshoots and holy crap I’ve got hips” phase)


 (“Holy crap back fat stomach fat” phase)


(“Bear in mind that the camera on my phone elongates and I’m not nearly this tall or slim” phase)

If you want to see a video of me partner dancing in a body that menstruates (which is, still, a size or two smaller than I am now, I am more than happy to invite you to do so, here).


Looking at these photos, you might hardly see a difference. So what, you say. “She’s not overweight.” 

No, of course not. I agree. I mean — there is definitely a difference, and just about everybody in my life has remarked upon it. My thighs are about 3 inches thicker, each. My face “fuller.” My abs, gone. My periods, pain free, and quite short (thanks to paleo!). I used to be a size 26 jean, and last night I wore a 30. I can no longer wear any outfit with carefree abandon — I now have to worry about placement and what the most flattering cut is and how to handle the parts of my that jiggle. 

Some people say I look better. I don’t know. Can I compare? I don’t know. I know I look different, and that’s all that has mattered, and all that made this, while on one hand the best thing in my life, also, on the other hand, one of the harder things I have done (at least in 2014 🙂 ). 

It’s been a small difference, but I had to read my own writing, and reach out to others for reassurance, and make a deliberate effort to arm myself against the tides of psychological baggage that tells me putting on weight makes me a failure, marks me as lazy, and renders me unfit for love. I believe so strongly in allegiance to our natural bodies, but that does not mean that I still did/do not have to fight for it on my “bad” days. Only because the gains I have had have been so great — I’m never giving up sex again — and because I have such loving, supportive people in my life, and because I’m currently finishing editing a book all about self-love, was I able to fall asleep peacefully at night rather than in a fit of frustrated, frightened tears.

Our society makes it hard. Even at my own relatively small weight gain and size. It makes it hard to “lose ground.” It makes it hard to “backslide.” But that doesn’t mean we give up. We remind ourselves of our own inherent worth, and we push through, and we change the face of womanhood one woman at a time.

I am no longer a fitness champion. I can no longer compare myself to Victoria’s Secret models. But I am different. I’m a new kind of sexy (more about which in coming days). I am me. And I am happy, and fertile, and healthy, and alive.

Hell. Yes. 


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Managing director of Paleo for Women and author of Sexy by Nature.


  1. Pingback: I Failed, Gained 15 Pounds and Saved my Life (Or Something) | Paleo Digest

  2. Oh, how I relate to this. At 5’5″, I reached 109 at my lowest. I fit into all of the clothes I had always envied on other women. I was skinny. But I had no energy, thought about food constantly , and missed out on a lot of my toddler’s life because I was just surviving and not living.

    It got old. I threw in the towel. Said good bye to paleo (mostly), and just ate what felt right. Mostly fruits, veggies and protein since my palate had changed, but also Carbs? Cereal! Birthday cake! It was glorious. And lo bad behold , I got pregnant again. Life is good.

    I still don’t like looking at pictures of myself in my current body. I’m working on self love. But I can tell you, that even without my favorite skinny clothes and with needing to wear spanx sometimes, life is better when you let yourself get a little bigger.

    Bravo, Stefani. Your body is thanking you.

  3. Good golly, you’re crazy beautiful. And lordy!– can you dance.

  4. Stefani – thank you for this 🙂 What you do for women-community is amazing – all the support, sharing your experience, all the advices.
    Also I am glad that you are back with new posts on your site.

    I send you hugs 🙂

  5. You look beautiful in all of the pictures and you dance like a goddess! Thanks for sharing your story – inspiring as always.

  6. I have been on one “diet” or another since I was 12. My mom was a nurse, she and my sisters were thin, and I was not. The more she pushed me to lose weight, the sneakier I got with eating. Anyway, thanks to binge eating I weighed 320 lbs. a year and a half ago. Then I had my own little girl, realized I was a terrible role model, and through some research decided to go Paleo. I lost 140 pounds. But I still struggle with binge eating and I still avoid mirrors at all costs. All this to say, I think most people out there are struggling with their “diets” and body image in one way or another, whether they admit it or not, whether they appear to be fat or thin. It sucks.

  7. Congratulations Stefani. I am still working through what you have gone through… 5’2″ 87lbs at my lightest. Have gained weight, but haven’t menstruated in almost 7 years. Still searching for the self confidence to not work out like crazy.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I started Paleo about a year and a half ago, combined with a brutal exercise routine. I was a 100% – er for close to 8 months, and in that time period I: completely lost my period, lost twenty pounds (off a small, asian frame), and turned bright orange (from too much beta carotene). After reintroducing rice and potatoes into my diet, my fatigue let up, and I gained some weight. But still no period. Stopped exercising like a maniac – no period. I know I’m not underweight, but I’m afraid my body still doesn’t trust me. However, I’m going to be studying abroad for most of the next year, and in my first week (this last week) I’ve already eaten lots of no-no foods (living with a host family and all), including lentils, beans, rice, sugar, and wine. But for once, I don’t hate my body? (https://girlandfire.wordpress.com/)
    You’re such an inspiration, and I hope I can get healthy again, like you. I’m so glad you’re happy.

    • I’m not sure you were paleo? There are no brutal exercise routines in paleo. Crossfitters (which sounds like you were doing) are exercise fanatics.

      Sisson points out that walking a little, a few sprints a week and occasional lifting heavy things it the natural exercise protocol.

      He also points out that for intense exercisers, like you, that an abundance of carbs are needed.

      My suggestion to you is to be moderate in your exercise frequency and duration. Diet wise (since you got the exercise part wrong with paleo) avoid the bad foods and eat more of the good foods if you’re too skinny or missing your period.

      Just about any low calorie diet will kill sex drive. So it is important to eat plenty of calories. I think most women equate fat with evil, so my guess is your versions of paleo were also low in fat and you probably were eating way to few calories.

      If you’re a size zero and not menstruating for 7 years you’re not eating enough.

      Eat some more carbs for god sake. Paleo is a guide not a religion. But do avoid grains each and everyone of you. Sounds like good old baked potatoes with butter might be just the ticket for you. (avoid the skin)

  9. Thank you for talking about this. I am still deeply confused about what/how much I should be eating. (My main issue is food intolerances/indigestion – when I dealt with that in the past, I lost weight, felt great, and my skin cleared up, but when I follow the same plan today it doesn’t work (how can anyone have so much painful gas on a diet of only grass-fed meat?) and I am very confused. Also, price of food always an issue.) I scarily suspect that I actually need to drop weight to be healthier even though I am maybe 120? (No scale so I don’t actually know.) I was once below 100 lbs at 5’1.5″ and felt great (which actually kind of scared me, because it wasn’t what I was expecting). But I couldn’t afford to keep eating that much meat and rebounded onto too many carbs again.

    At any rate, my story isn’t yours, but I still get a lot out of discussions like this and wish there were more. A series of case studies/profiles?

  10. You seriously have no idea how much I needed to read something like this. I’ve recently been called ‘chubby’ and as I work in the health sector, a hypocrite for being that. I don’t consider myself chubby, but healthy – saying that the chubby comment still hurt my feelings. However, today I got a call from my doctor to let me know my most recent blood tests indicate I’ve ovulated for the first time in over 3 years. I’ll take my ‘chubby’ body for that alone!

    Your blog has been so instrumental in me loving my body and feeling healthy (and sexy) again, thank you so much x

    • Anyone who thinks size dictates your qualification to be in the health industry is living in ignorance, people don’t see how incredibly unhealthy ‘skinny’ can be, both for the mind and body. Instead of thinking in number labels, we should focus on quality of life and successful body function as healthy qualities to motivate change x

  11. You are so beautiful! Thank you for sharing…more women need to see this.
    Your story is so similar to mine! I wrote a similar post not long ago with old pictures of a much smaller, but less happy, confident and healthy me. http://summerinnanen.com/4-reasons-pics-bs

    I did so much damage for so long that my hormones never really recovered and after years and tons of money on natural treatments, I decided to seek treatment from bioidentical hormones. I’m happy to report my sex drive and metabolism both bounced back.

    Keep up your inspiring work!

    • GOOD. I think hormones are appropriate for a lot of women. 🙂 And thank you, Summer, its an honor, truly.

  12. Hi , what a lovely post. I have my own blog which talks about paleo living from as a mom and bringing up my child paleo angle. Lately I have got my period back after 15 months as I have recently cut down nursing (though my 15 month old still nurses a couple of times)
    My hormones have gone haywire. I was lean before pregancy , through pregnancy and post partum. I never gained weight and looked fabulous (if I can say so myself)

    Now after getting my period back I have gained so much weight in my hips and butt though I am eating. Well and exercising well. When people meet me and say oh i have been reading your blog or oh you’re the one with the fitness blog I feel self conscious because I know they are judging my body.

    Most women when they wean their babies experience sudden weight gain and they attribute it to eating as much as before but apetitie still high. I know this is not the case because I have gained weight in my hips thighs and butt areas that I have never gained weight before in my 30 years.
    I think I have suddenly more estrogen then before.
    What I wanted to ask that when hormones fluctuate like this and suddenly I am estrogens dominant should I do things different or wait it out? Is is common ?

  13. You are simply amazing and inspiring (and funny)! Thank you 🙂

  14. Pingback: Eat, Move, Wear, Love, Link #4 - Keeping Healthy Getting Stylish

  15. Stefani,
    Great stuff. I wanted you to know that I’ve included a few of your posts in my weekly newsletter, A Black Belt Life. Hopefully it’s been driving more readers to your blog. You’re Paleo for Women perspective is great for my female readers, because you’ve done such a good (and rare) job of documenting the changes in your body over the years, and the impact certain foods have had on that change. I’m a fan.
    – Brian

  16. Great post! Thank you for sharing. You are a good role model for women. We all struggle with body image and should learn to love ourself. By the way, you look absolutely beautiful and sexy and you are not fat at all. I have been through the same pattern. I lost a lot of weight doing low carb paleo. I went from 130lb to 110lb, I’m 5’4. I lost my period, my sex drive and my energy. I was depressed but I was thin, Great! After a while, I started binging on sugar and I gained back weight. I felt like a failure, I felt horrible and guilty. After self talking to myself for months and telling myself that I was beautiful, I stopped worrying about my body image and about my diet and I felt so much freedom. I got my peroid back and my sex drive and like you, I don’t want to loose that again! I do think I am sexy now at 125lb and I enjoy eating without guilt. I hope you message gets speared in the paleo community :o)

  17. Pingback: Paleo for Women | I Gained Fifteen Pounds and Am Damn Sexy Still

  18. Stefani, thank you SO much for sharing your story here. I too have struggled with a hormonal imbalance. For me it manifested itself in hypothalamic amenorrhea. I’ve put on 25 pounds, and just recently got a natural period, thank God! But I’m anxiously waiting for my cycles to normalize. Can you tell me how long it took for you to regain regular cycles after you gained weight/stopped restricting?

    Thanks again,

    • It depends on how far off you are. I have never been precisely regular, so I didn’t look to be 100 percent regular when cycles returned. When they did however it happened once a month. Honestly I cannot say for sure now whether my hormones are “balanced” relative to what they “should” be – but they are certainly in a healthy, fairly regular place. I imagine that how much you gain / how much you continue to restrict or be stressed will be the primary factors driving your regularity moving forward (as well as pure randomness based on your own pituitary genes, etc.)

  19. I’m halfway there, and struggling with the other half. After a massive weight loss of 45 lbs from 145 to 100 (5’8″, the 100 lbs was bordering on hospital), for 10 years I’ve had amenorrhea, *zero* sex drive, *zero* desire to even be in a relationship with a guy, *zero* caring if a relationship ends. I’m at 128 lbs now, holding steady there for the past couple years, and I just can’t make the bump higher. I’m still holding onto the cute and tiny, which at 5’8″ I still am thin. Your storyline of your body is so similar to mine, with the completely normal body size at a younger age– just with some curves, needing to pay attention to how clothing fits, but still completely normal. And completely sexy. I don’t know why I can’t continue on. I like my flat stomach 🙁 Sigh…

    • Honestly, Kat, I needed to be pushed. I was at a point in my life where I literally didn’t have the time or energy to pay attention to those things. Everything I did was directed at my work. And I let everything else happen as it may, including my body. Then I noticed my body starting to change and get bigger. Today I have the option to restrict back down, but experiencing the changes made it worth it to push through. My sex drive was coming back, and that was exciting. And one of my current lovers is over the moon ecstatic about my body changes. That certainly doesn’t hurt.

      There’s a certain beauty to an athletic ideal, but there is an equally beautiful beauty to a fit curvy body, or really of any shape. The point is to keep emphasizing to ourselves that its DIFFERENT. Not worse. Not even better, necessarily. But you might be a different kind of beauty, and one who likes romance and sex again.

  20. It puts things in perspective… I’m your height and I weigh 165 (practically obese by BMI standards though you won’t know from looking at me).

    I’d kill to be your size right now. But back when I was 125 it wasn’t enough. Right now it just seems frustrating because no matter how much it makes sense to me I cannot love myself the way I am and frankly I’m usually disgusted with myself.

    • I know how you feel. For most of high school I was pretty firmly 150-155, and I think was up to 165 briefly. I felt big in size. But I do remember distinctly during these times, my body being *hot* to quite a few. And one beautiful black girl of her own volition telling me she thought I had the best body of anyone, particularly over these skinny white girls, because I had curves– but not fat curves like the lazy girls (she was great :)). Why do we cling onto that 125 then? I was beautiful, I’m sure you are damn beautiful and healthy too.

  21. Love you Stefani. Thank you for posting this.

    • <3 I fully expect to hug you in april!

  22. Pingback: Paleo for Women | Why Victoria’s Secret can be a #1 Body-Love Enemy (and It’s Not Just the Models)

  23. Stephanie, I think I love you! <3 I've had such a hard time with body image and self love, and a lot of it goes back to being a child and hearing all the time from an insensitive alcoholic father comments about my body that seemed really mean, even if they were meant as compliments. Don't get me wrong, I love my dad and enjoy being around him most of the time, but man…the things we hear as children can become our inner voices if we let them. I was a healthy, cute and sturdy little girl. I stayed that way until middle school (even though I was fully aware that I wasn't a toothpick and wanted to diet) when I started dieting and began exercising more than I really had energy for. I did a lot of crazy and desperate things to try to lose weight, and often did, but I wonder at the cost. All the time spent chasing and running after the small body that would make me feel happy at last and acceptable to myself. I love where you said in one of your other posts about your perception of people's perception of you and how it affected you. That Really was a great reminder to me, as I had talked about that very thing earlier in the day with my husband and how our perceptions of how we think people see us affects how we behave and how in lots of cases we are treated.
    So I went from being 150 in seventh grade and a size seven at almost 5'6" with a really good amount of muscle for a kid to 129-188lbs in the next half of my life, my highest recently in the past month on a "fat aunt visiting" day.
    I have since middle school intermittently become a long distance jogger/ weight lifter/ couch potato and the mother of 3 boys in a timeframe of 19 months ( a single pregnancy then became pregnant when he was ten months with a twin pregnancy) and then nursed and pumped with never having to formula supplementing all those boys until my oldest was almost three and my twins were a week away from their second birthday. And I hate my body? I am so glad for all of your recent posts. I have checked your blog once in awhile to see if there was any new material and was very pleased to see life when I looked today. My twins are a little over three now, and I've gained back a lot of weight since weaning them. About 40 lbs. but I was also running and heavily dieting since they were three months old. I would like to settle into a muscular 145-150 before I turn 30 in a year and a half, but getting there seems so impossible right now, even though I'm off the ketogenic stuff and eating a tentative amount of carbs again, between 80-125 grams on the days that I count and modestly exercising.
    I'm a little embarrassed to have written a novella, but it has helped me process through some things. So thank you for your kindness and love to me by writing about yourself and your victories and struggles.

  24. As far as I can see, though, you’re still very FIT. And strong. Right?
    I suffer from the same problems. I’ve gained 2 kg the past weeks as I’ve eaten more and I know most is probably muscle but STILl … my mind is screaming!
    And besides, your fat sits in beautiful places.
    Personally I feel like all of it just gathers in front. My profile is not very sexy from my own perspective.
    But I haven’t had my period for two years now. I fear I suffer from having my hormonal balances created when I was almost overweight and ate a bunch of junk 🙁 I don’t want to go back to that. made me feel like crap.

  25. Hello,
    I am happy for you 🙂 you look awesome
    but I am very scared.
    I have not gotten my period for three months and I am definitely not pregnant as I am a virgin.
    I did lose quite a lot of weight and worked out 5 times a week.
    However, I have stopped that now and have been eating properly and actually trying to gain weight and Its been three weeks since I have gone to the proper healthy routine but There is still no sign of my periods!!
    When will I get my period back?!

    • All in good time! Hormones can take a while to heal … 3 weeks is very short! Have faith 🙂

      • if you dont mind me asking, How long did it take you to get it back?

        • Once I gained those fifteen pounds, it started immediately. but I went four years without it before that

  26. Another great article. As I gain some needed weight it is SO hard not to resist the changes I see. Everything is morphing from a lean, mean, hottie paleo-machine into a “fuller” version of me. I, too, have been so comfortable in this tiny body and so afraid of having it taken away that it’s pretty much consumed my life. It’s terrifying, because I know where I’m headed: back to the version of Me with the round face, big boobs, and love handles. The Me that seems to be my set point. The Me that I need to fall in love with once-and-for-all.

    Thanks again for being bold, Stefani. It’s about time someone brought this stuff up. Destroying our natural female bodies under the guise of healthiness has got to stop!

    I just bought Sexy By Nature and it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I’m super excited to have this new resource.

    • And I’M super excited to have you on my side. 🙂 Thanks for the courage, Meghan.

  27. All I can say is THANK YOU for the awesome professional photo of you in your ‘fat’ phase.

    So often when people know they are going to be getting photos done, the kind that is meant for people to see for marketing/advertising/whatever purposes, they intentionally slim down…it’s f*ing scary to know that everyone will see a photo of you (because who would pay someone to take their picture and then not use it all over the place?) so who wouldn’t want to look their best in said photo.

    But it never truly shows the person as they are in their day-to-day life, but I actually believe that that is how you look on a regular normal basis, and it is really nice to see.

    You look absolutely stunning, and it’s really empowering for me to see because I’m pretty sure that my stomach looks exactly like yours does in that photo (at least I hope it does!) and it helps me to know that I probably look stunning in pictures as well…even without the flat stomach that it’s hard to tell myself I don’t want

  28. Thank you so much for this post! You are incredible! So many more women need to see this. They NEED posts like this to know they’re not alone.

    As many women go through, I too had my own body image struggle.

    My obsession did so much damage to my body but what it did the most was crush my spirit. I lost the most important thing you need to have : Self-Love.

    I’m happy to report once I prioritized my self-love, everything changed and my bullshit issues with my body went away. My sex drive increased, my periods became significantly less painful, and my acne, for the first time in 25 freaking years, was GONE! I’m so much happier and in love with myself now than I was when I was 15 pounds lighter and I’ll never go back.

    Thank you for being such an inspiring, powerful woman. I adore you! xoxo

  29. I know this struggle. Sometimes I feel like it is impossible to completely accept myself when the world around me doesn’t. There are men who prefer curvy women, but not where I live (Los Angeles). When your father, brothers, lovers, and male friends seem to all express the most admiration for size 00 teenage girls, it seems like an impossible quandary. When I was skinny, I didn’t respect or trust the men who showered their attention on me. Now that I’m not I feel like I’m on the outside looking in. I don’t know which one is worse. Women (or girls, I should say) are rewarded for their sexual value to men FAR more than for any other trait, talent, or skill. It’s no wonder they get caught up in that competition for the rest of their lives. Get an A on your science test, and get a casual pat on the back. Look adorable in your Sunday dress, and be loved and celebrated by all. Which would you choose? I am quite capable of loving myself and seeing the depth and beauty in the attractive and relatively fit peri-menopausal woman. But being around unenlightened men can destroy that for me, especially when it’s men I’m deeply connected to like my family.

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