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In my previous two posts (Part 1 & Part 2) I gave you all a background on my history. How I grew up, how major events shaped my life, and how I found Paleo in the first place. When I found Paleo (and at first the GAPS diet), I was in heaven. I was having fun concocting new recipes with my reduced ingredient lists (I'll embrace just about anything apparently if it's challenging), figuring out what made me and my family feel better, and feeling included in the great community that was and still is Paleo.
I loved it so much that I decided to make a Paleo iPhone/iPad app (Nourished) that featured all the bloggers who had been so influential in my life at that point. I took on an aggressive schedule of updating it every month with new recipes and bloggers. For a while that was all great, but it was really stressful. Like REALLY stressful. The amount of work that went into updating it monthly was upwards of 20 hours and I still had a full time job and 2 young kids to take care of. Plus app development is one thing, but it's not a “if you build it they will come” kind of situation. One must promote the app as well, so I went ahead and started food blogging on my app website as well.
Now food blogging is um, how do I put this, both exhilarating and freakin HARD to do. Most food bloggers post a new recipe every week. That might not seem like a lot to you, but when you have to come up with a new recipe, test it hopefully several times, and take a “OhMyGodThat'sAnAmazing” photo every week, PLUS promote it on social media and recipe sharing sites, it gets overwhelming. So first up, I have to tip my hat to any food blogger who makes this work, because you my friends, are my heroes. Unfortunately for me, that overwhelmed, completely stressed out feeling I had of trying to balance all of these things at once slowly started me down the path of health decline.
For the most part, the entire time I had been on the Paleo diet up to this point, I had followed the widely accepted 80/20 or 90/10 rule, where you eat Paleo 80% (or 90%) of the time and cheat on non-Paleo treats 20% (or 10 %) of the time. TYPICALLY, this did not include gluten for me, but instead my cheats were reserved more for things like gluten-free baked goods, rice, cheese, and my all-time favorite treat of all – the Starbucks Latte. I couldn't pass a Starbucks without getting a Latte. And not just a coffee and milk drink, it always had to be hopped up with the latest syrupy goodness #PSLALLTHEWAYBABY!
Once every 6 months or so I'd try to go on a 30 day reset, so I did Primal Palate's 30 Day Guide To Paleo one month, and Melissa and Dallas Hartwig's Whole 30 another. These were strict, no cheating Paleo efforts that made me feel better and each time managed to break my cravings for all things evil. I knew in my head that once I went back to eating 80/20 that I would start feeling crappier, but sometimes one's head doesn't talk to one's mouth.
So January of 2014 comes around. I had been stressed out over Nourished App for over a year at that point, Paleo on 80/20 to 90/10 for over 2 years and just made it through the holidays, eating a bit more gluten than I had for months (my husband and I went to NYC for New Year's and there are just too many ah-MAH-zing restaurants there to not eat it, right?). As SOON as I got off the plane from NYC I got hit with the flu. Then I “recover” (if that is what you call finally going back to your office and hacking up your lungs all day) for about 2 weeks and then I got a several day fever/virus. Then I got a nasty sinus infection. Then I got, yeah, well, you get the idea. It went on like this ALL. WINTER. LONG. By the end of it I was so exhausted that I could barely move. And then after your typical “I've been sick all winter” recovery time was up, I STILL couldn't get off the couch. I'd be ok(ish) in the mornings but come 1 pm I felt like someone had put a sleeping spell on me. I'd get home from picking the kids up from daycare and it was all I could do to sit upright on the couch to smile at them every so often. Forget playing with them. I'd watch my husband run around with them, doing normal parent-y things like tag and baseball and whatnot and wonder “why can't I do that?”. This went on until about May, when I finally got fed up. I listened to Sean Croxton's (Underground Wellness) Thyroid Sessions on some whim and it turned things around for me completely.
Listening to these sessions, these interviews of leading experts in the world on things like autoimmune disease, gluten, thyroid, and alternative medicine, I realized that that diagnosis I had gotten 8 years prior of “Hypothyroid” was most likely BS and I most likely had an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. A door had opened up for me, and through it I stepped. I then listened to Tom O'Bryans “The Gluten Summit” and learned even more about how bad gluten was for you – about how if you have any sensitivity to it your body creates antibodies for 3-4 MONTHS after eating one crumb. I knew at that point that I most likely had some sort of gluten sensitivity because when I did have it I would have bloating, pretty bad anxiety, and my vision would get all “standard def” again, but I had always thought it was one of those “eh, whatever, I'll deal with the consequences for the next day or so” kind of thing, not a “I'm damaging my body for 3-4 MONTHS kind of thing”.
Finally I determined I needed to make a change. I had come across the Autoimmune Paleo protocol somewhere and decided that that was the path I was going to take as so many people were experiencing success on it (this is a strict elimination diet that removes all inflammatory foods and then re-introduces foods one at a time to determine what might be causing issues with you). Though I wasn't SURE that I had an autoimmune paleo disease at that point. I read Sarah Ballentyne's The Paleo Approach to learn more about autoimmune disease and using the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol to put it in remission(fantastic book, btw). I started walking multiple times a day, relaxing as best I could, and trying to meditate. I also started taking all kinds of supplements to try to fix things myself, but that just got overwhelming and very expensive. I didn't know what I was doing to put it bluntly. I had heard of all these people figuring it all out themselves, but as my doctor likes to put it, I had my “come to Jesus” moment and realized I needed help.
Off I went to a reputable functional medicine provider I had found on Google. Really, that's how I found him. But his website spoke to me as he talked about Hashimoto's and the tie to Celiac disease and how diet alone doesn't always cut it. He also mentioned on his site that both he and his wife had been through all of this themselves, so I figured he knew what he was talking about.
He ran a battery of tests on me and finally, FINALLY I knew what was wrong with me. “Yes, you have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. Yes you have Celiac disease (based on the Cyrex Array 3 – never confirmed via biopsy, so semantics schmantics, you could call it Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity if you want) that has essentially had your body eating your brain for the last few years, causing memory and balance issues. And oh look at this, based on the Cyrex Array 4 you also have cross-reactions with corn, oats, teff, coffee (coffee??? That one hurt for sure), whey and casein (found in dairy, another big ouch), and eggs (yet another huge ouch). And finally, for the ooeey gooey buttercream icing on the big glutenous eggy cake of life, you have severe adrenal fatigue.” WTF man? At least it explained why I had felt like sh*t for the prior few months.
So off I embarked on my very strict Autoimmune Paleo diet (the part before you add anything back in) for 3 months, along with a bunch of custom tailored supplements for my situation, and a prescription for a lot of rest and relaxation. I was seeing my practitioner twice a week too to check in and make sure I was on the right path. And within about 3 weeks I started feeling mildly better, by the time I had hit 6 weeks I had felt decidedly better, and by the time I had hit 3 months I felt fantastic. Like better than I have been in 8 years fantastic! Shout from the rooftops fantastic! Like start a new blog called Thriving On Paleo fantastic 🙂
I then started the rigorous process of reintroductions, which has been a bumpy road to say the least. I am now as of this writing, 6 months into the diet, and have finally been able to reintroduce most things (that are Paleo – no more gluten or “cheats” for me). But the first time I tried to introduce paprika, for example, I got depressed. I mean, I was depressed that I couldn't have paprika because it is in EVERYTHING, but this was more of the weepy, I don't give a crap about anything type of depression. So out paprika and all nightshades went for another 4 weeks. But by now most things that didn't test well the first time are starting to test ok. Well, I think they are ok- that's the problem with these elimination diets. Unless one lives in a vaccum, which I decidedly do not, it is hard sometimes to tell if a certain nuanced symptom you are experiencing is because of a food you ate, something that changed in your environment, or a result of a night of bad sleep, etc. It's easy to get crazed and obsess over every little thing, but I think I've learned enough to relax and if I'm not sure, just remove it for 4 more weeks and try again. Because after all, it's just food. And I'll survive another 4 weeks without a chili pepper. I still haven't tried to add back in the foods that I tested badly for on the Cyrex 4, but maybe someday I will. Just want to concentrate on healing as much as I can first.
As of now though I mostly feel better each and every day. Someday I have dips where I struggle with getting out of bed or have my late afternoon energy dip, things still aren't completely right with my whole menstrual cycle (yeah, I didn't mention that but that was another issue I had due to wacked-out hormones), and now my thyroid is operating so much better that I've actually swung to “hyperthyroid”, so I'm still a work in progress. But overall everything looks like it is on the upswing. I definitely do not want to go back to where I was this past spring/summer though, so I'm being very vigilant about healing through my diet and paying special attention to ensuring I get adequate sleep and relaxing time each day. And one major bonus – I lost 14 more pounds (the rest of my stubborn baby weight) from being on the AIP. This was by eating a ton of fat and never once feeling hungry. Talk about a world of difference from the days of Lean Cuisine and starving myself to death!
For those of you still reading (THANKS btw for reading) the moral of this story is:
(1) Listen to your body – if you think something might be causing issues with you, like gluten or dairy or whatever, try removing it for a while. If then you still think there are issues, maybe get tested, maybe just remove it completely. Gluten can cause some serious damage to you if you have a sensitivity towards it. Get a Cyrex Array 3 panel done to find out (it tests 24 different proteins of gluten unlike the standard tests of just 2 or 3). Also maybe try the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol for a few months and see if it makes you feel better.
(2) Make time for rest, relaxation, and mild to moderate exercise. Paleo isn't just about diet and food. That's why you often hear it referred to as the Paleo lifestyle. Food will only get you so far. If you still are stressed out 24/7 and not getting in any sort of movement, your health WILL fail. I am a prime example of this. Exercise could just be walking. Yes you can do more, but if you struggle to do anything at all, walking is fine!
(3) Be veeeeery veeeery careful with that Paleo cheat 80/20 rule thing. Will I cheat again someday? Perhaps. But never again with gluten, that's for sure. And I'll post in a few weeks the super simple and cheap way I finally kicked my Starbucks addiction (this was huge, as nothing I had ever done before worked like this did).
(4) Also be very careful with chronic cardio. Our society seems to be going into the “more is better” realm of exercise. Marathons and Ironman triathlons are more popular than ever these days and don't get me wrong, I GET it. I went and watched Ironman Boulder this year and for the next few weeks all I wanted to do was train for another Ironman. But if you are one of the endurance types, please do me a favor and eat as much nutritious food as you can and check out Ben Greenfield's book, Beyond Training for some invaluable advice on how to do this correctly.
(5) When in doubt, find a qualified practitioner to work with. I credit a lot of my healing to mine, and a lot of my feeling of being in control over my health due to him. I think had I not found him I would still be floundering around in a sea of confusion. I keep working on my own education of how all these things work, but his help has been so valuable to me.
Have any questions? Post them in the comments below and I'll try to answer them as best I can. And remember: