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From Chubby Kid with Allergies & Insomnia to Crossfit and Paleo

Taunted as a Chubby Kid

From grade school to the day I graduated from college, I was a chubby nerd and an easy target. My parents were both exceptionally good cooks — my dad owned a restaurant and my mom won almost every cooking contest she entered. I was a chubby kid because I really liked food. And after broken ankles and playground taunts — at a bus stop, I was once unfavorably compared to a whale by one of the neighbor kids — I stuck with reading and practicing the piano and roller skating to the library. I don’t know how many gym classes I missed because I was “sick” or “forgot” my gym clothes.

Even though I avoided sports, I secretly admired the athletic kids. They walked taller than the rest of us. When I was in 10th grade, my dad took me to Annapolis to see the Navy band play a concert, and for about three weeks, I was determined to get in shape so I could apply to the Naval Academy. I abandoned that dream because I was incapable of doing push-ups and sit-ups (and I was too embarrassed and overwhelmed to ask for help).

The Clothes Make the Girl's Melissa Joulwan, before and after Paleo and Crossfit

The Clothes Make the Girl’s Melissa Joulwan, before and after Paleo and Crossfit

Attempting Change

When I graduated from college, I started an exercise program and adopted a “healthy” diet (the old-fashioned healthy: low-fat, high-carb). I became a certified aerobics instructor and was bitten by the triathlon bug. I did the Danskin and an Olympic distance race, and in 1999, I finished the Wildflower Triathlon. I was the very last person to cross the finish line; I’d missed the cut-off for the run, but was too stubborn to give up. My total time was somewhere in the neighborhood of 9-and-a-half hours. When I stopped, the race clock had been off for hours.


I was still haunted by a deep desire to be different than I was. To be thin. To feel confident. To break the cycle of thinking of food — and my behavior — as “good” and “bad.” It was my habit to celebrate and to grieve and to stress out and to relax with food. Although I worked out regularly, I didn’t FEEL strong, inside or out. I had insomnia and allergies and stomach aches. My body didn’t feel like it belonged to me.


Then I found Crossfit and Paleo

Thanks to Melissa and Dallas of Whole9, I dumped grains and dairy, did a series of Whole30 cleanups, committed to eight hours of sleep EVERY NIGHT, and eventually, made friends with food and my body. I found CrossFit and fell in love with barbell training and man-makers and sprints and (terrifying) handstands and double-unders and callouses on my hands and sweat angels on the floor. Pushing hard in a workout and really facing myself – fear, hesitation, bravado, even silliness – feels like freedom.

Now I know when and how often I can indulge in non-paleo foods, and I enjoy those once-in-a-while treats like never before. The food tastes a lot better when it’s savored and not followed by a chaser of self-recrimination. I finally know how to truly celebrate on occasion while I live clean and healthy the rest of the time. I finally feel “normal.” Only I suspect my normal is better than most peoples’.

One more obstacle – only half a thyroid, and it doesn’t work.

In 2009, right about the time I was hitting my goal weight and feeling on top of the world, I learned I had a nodule on my thyroid. The risk of cancer meant I had to have it removed, along with a little more than half of my thyroid. The half-thyroid hung on for a few months, then it crapped out. I take Synthroid and Cytomel, and mostly, it’s not too bad. But it was a long road to getting my doseage right, and sometimes, I still feel fatigued. If you’re curious about thyroid issues or are battling a naughty thyroid yourself, you can read all about my thyroid experiences.

Now I have excellent habits 95% of the time.

I CrossFit and run and lift heavy stuff. I eat clean. I make music. I read. I write. I cook.

And sometimes, I’m a slug who indulges in corn-based chip products, buttered popcorn, and an icy-cold glass of Prosecco. I might also occasionally sip on a glass of Ouzo and eat whipped cream. (And yes, that 95% listed so brazenly above is accurate; I did the math because I’m THAT dorky.)

I’m not anywhere near done yet.

I’m pleased with my progress, and I accept that my stems, while muscular and strong, are quite short. And I still want to be stronger, faster, leaner, and more bad-ass. Thankfully, I know I have the tools to do that. I no longer feel like there’s something different about the way my body works – that it’s a big mystery. I understand what I need to do to thrive, and I’m confident that I’ll reach whatever goals I set for myself


Melissa Joulwan of The Clothes Make the Girl and Well Fed Paleo Recipe BookMelissa Joulwan is:
– The beauty and brains behind ‘The Clothes Make the Girl‘.
– Author of ‘Well Fed‘ Paleo Recipe Book.
– A retired roller girl, from the original flat track roller derby in Austin.
– A sucker for the perfect little black dress and stompy black boots.



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