The Paleo diet. You’ve heard of it, maybe you subscribe to it, or maybe you dismiss it as another “fad” diet, just a passing trend.
I was a skeptic, and to some point I still am. However, some recent life circumstances have put me face to face with this “diet” or way of eating (I hate the word “diet”) and there is nothing left to do but to plunge in headfirst.
For over a year and a half I was struggling with recovering from an emergency c-section with my 2nd son and mysterious and sometimes debilitating symptoms that left me unable to run or do the things I love. After going through the gamut of tests, finally a double whammy diagnosis less than a month ago: Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease which causes your own body attack the lining of your small intestine preventing essential nutrients and vitamins to be absorbed and also Hashimoto’s or autoimmune thyrodisis in which your body attacks your thyroid, eventually destroying its ability to produce important hormones that regulate important body functions like metabolism, body temperature, muscle strength, appetite, and the health of your heart, brain, and kidneys.
Initially, I was put on a semi restrictive diet: No wheat, soy, dairy and limit corn, nuts and beans. However, after a scare a couple weeks ago when my thyroid suddenly decided to stop producing hormones altogether things got curiouser and curiouser.
New medicines and a new plan: The Autoimmune protocol diet. When I received the list of what I could and couldn’t eat I laughed. I was going caveman. This new “diet” is basically the Paleo diet minus the nuts, beans and a handful of veggies that are found to cause inflammation.
So here I am, a semi-vegetarian now eating meat two meals a day. A degreed nutritionist who was raised on the good ole food guide pyramid where carbs and whole grains were king.
I felt as though I was Alice, looking into a deep rabbit hole, wondering what strange backwards world I was heading into.
The first couple weeks weren’t bad. In fact, I feel great! And I am actually starting to crave meat which I have never done in the past. But I have a long ways to go and most days I still struggle with figuring out exactly what to eat and dealing with insane cravings for the foods my body misses so dearly.
In case you aren’t too familiar with the Paleo diet, it goes well beyond what most people think it is. The true Paleo diet means: no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no refined sugars, no modern vegetable oils, no processed food chemicals. And focus on more fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fruits, grass-fed and organ meats, healthy fats (avocados, coconut/olive oils, etc), and pro-biotic foods (kombucha, water kefir, coconut kefir, etc).
If your first thought is, “who would ever voluntarily commit themselves to such a restrictive diet”, I am right there with you. However, after doing a little more digging into my own condition and the reason I would be prescribed this “diet” I unearthed some interesting facts and reasons why you might consider at least incorporating some aspects of the Paleo diet into your lifestyle:
- Less inflammation:
Inflammation is the cornerstone to many ailments that chronically plague modern humans- heart disease, autoimmune diseases, even Alzheimer’s can be triggered by and exasperated by a diet high in foods that cause an inflammatory response. The foods in the paleo diet are all known to have anti-inflammatory benefits while the foods removed are known to cause inflammation.
- Healthier blood and muscles:
You will be eating more iron and protein through increased red meat intake. All athletes, and especially those doing a lot of weight lifting or running long distances need to get plenty of iron to keep red blood cell production up and protein to build and maintain muscle.
- Eating clean:
You will eat a clean diet without additives, preservatives, or chemicals. Many of these added food properties have been linked to cancer and autoimmune disease.
- Weight loss:
Most people on the Paleo diet will lose weight primarily due to the limited food choices. No more pizza, brownies or beer= no more empty calories!
- Meal planning: This diet forces you to plan all of your meals in advance and take the extra time to search out recipes and come up with creative ways to cook the foods at home.
Everything in moderation. If I were not prescribed to this diet due to health reasons, I don’t know if I could stick to it’s rigidity.
One major downfall of this diet specific to athletes is the fact that besides fruits and vegetables, there is little to no source of carbohydrates, the body’s main fuel for exercise. I can definitely feel the effects of this when I am attempting longer, harder workouts.
The good news is I will not be on this “diet” forever, just until my immune system calms down a bit. Introducing gluten free grains like rice and quinoa, and other foods like corn, legumes and nuts back into my routine are on the horizon.
I think the takeaway for anyone considering the diet or just looking to eat healthier are adapt the parts of the diet that have definitive benefits.
Eat more fruits and veggies and cut out more fried food and unnecessary calories from sweets, fried and packaged foods.
Eat more fish and choose lean, grass-fed versions of your favorite meats. Make sure you have healthy sources of fats in your diet daily and find a good pro-biotic (this has helped me a ton!).
Now time to get out there and discover your inner caveman!
Lauren’s anti-inflammatory smoothie recipe:
- Fresh chopped ginger
- A splash of orange juice
- Coconut milk
- Lemon juice
- Hemp Hearts
- Frozen mixed berries
Besides playing on the monkey bars with her boys, Lauren Jones loves trail running, obstacle course racing, snowboarding and mountain biking. She has her degree in exercise science and is a nutritionist passionate about good food and getting outside!