Proving the doctors wrong: getting healthy and eating Paleo
I love talking to people about eating Paleo, primarily because it’s an opportunity to educate them on something I believe has been terribly misconstrued by mass media and big corporations: what healthy actually is.
I always start by explaining the list of foods that are not allowed on the Paleo diet: gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, processed sugar and pretty much anything in a box.
The most common reaction is, “So, then, what do you eat?!” accompanied by a look of confusion and awe.
I probably just listed a high percentage of what you eat daily. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Why bother?
It might just change your life. More good news is there are so many options of foods to eat and flavors to play with, especially if, like me, you love to cook.
A little more than five years ago, still groggy in the hospital room after my first colonoscopy, the doctor told me I had Crohn’s disease, gave me a thick packet that explained that my intestines were ulcerated and inflamed; I should never eat popcorn again; and I would be starting a regimen of 14 different pills per day.
Talk about feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. It didn’t help that doctors told me that Crohn’s is chronic; I would be on medication forever. I should avoid certain foods, but ultimately, there is no proven diet that works for everybody — unlike with Celiac disease, a severe gluten allergy that can be controlled by cutting all gluten out of one’s diet. To this day, I still have doctors tell me that diet doesn’t cause my symptoms. I’ve been one of many able to prove those doctors wrong.
My diagnosis came at a time when I had been in pain for months. A good friend of mine had just started learning about Paleo and heard that the diet helped to treat disease, so she let me borrow her book, “A Paleo Solution” by Dr. Robb Wolf, who is considered one of the leading authorities on the Paleo diet.
I immediately found the page that told me what I couldn’t eat and decided there was no possible way I could do it. An everything bagel with cream cheese was arguably my favorite food on the entire planet, and coming from a Latin household, how was I supposed to swear off rice and beans? I didn’t find it hard to justify why it seemed bogus.
Years later, I have a completely different outlook on food and the Paleo lifestyle because of the positive difference it’s made in my life.
Paleo is often referred to as the caveman diet because at its foundation, you eat kind of like cavemen did. The idea is to eat things that come from earth and as your budget allows, organic produce, free-range poultry, cagefree eggs, grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish.
The human body was never intended to process pesticides, growth hormones and chemicals that are now put in our foods. It seems to be pretty clear at this point that they make us sick, especially when consumed over long periods of time.
I used to drink two or three coffees a day with cream and sugar and was a fan of one particular Rock Star energy drink. I counted calories, worked out five days a week but never really felt great. I was almost always tired and could be pretty irritable. I wanted to lose weight and never saw good enough results.
It turns out that when you stop giving your body sugar and chemicals, you gain energy, feel better and lose weight without even trying.
When eating Paleo, you get to eat large portions of protein, healthy fats such as avocado, olives and nuts, unlimited veggies and some fruit, all without worrying about counting a single calorie. You will undoubtedly lose weight and feel better without even thinking about it.
I’ve spent the last year really educating myself on Paleo and different natural ways to heal myself. One year ago, I had almost two feet of my intestines removed and for two years, have been giving myself an anti-inflammatory injection bi-weekly that has a longer list of negative side effects than it does benefits.
I don’t want to be on conventional medicine forever. I was curious how much FGCU students know about Paleo, so I asked around campus. Bridgite McCreary said that she’s been considering eating Paleo to try to be healthier.
“My mom, who is suffering from some medical conditions, has recently started eating Paleo and already seems pleased with the results,” McCreary said.
FGCU student Cameron Cole shared a story about a former middle school teacher of his who saved her own life by changing her eating habits.
“I’ve seen miracles happen with a simple change in diet,” Cole said. “(She) was diagnosed with lung cancer in a late stage, and the doctor expected her to only live for six months. But, by changing her diet, she is still alive and kicking several years later.”
All of the students I spoke to, except for one, didn’t know that one reason people turn to Paleo is to help heal chronic illnesses.
In this day and age, where doctors turn to medication first, more people need to be made aware that simple changes in diet have the potential to heal them before medication does, without a laundry list of side effects.
FGCU student Caitlyn Mannherz has aspirations to be a naturopathic doctor. She has had many successes herself in practicing a Paleo diet, including completely healing an ovarian cyst and losing a lot of weight.
“Most chronic illness is caused by inflammation, and there are thousands of scientific publications proving this,” Mannherz said. “Inflammation is the body’s response mechanism in informing you that something is very wrong, and you need to pay attention. It is when we ignore this signal that disease is born.”
In November 2014, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America reported there are 1.6 million people in the U.S. suffering from irritable bowel disease, which is 200,000 more than were reported just three years before in 2011.
I want to be clear that committing to Paleo is far from easy. It takes a lot of discipline. I’ll go on month-long streaks where I eat 100 percent Paleo and feel incredible. Then, someone orders Carvel ice cream cake for a birthday, and I fall apart. But, every time I fall off the wagon, it doesn’t take long to remember why I did it in the first place, and I go back.
For so many years, I ignored all the signs that my body was unhappy with me: the fatigue, the irritability, the lack of focus. I attributed them all to normal stresses that we all go through. I wish someone had told me to put the energy drinks down, cut down on bagels and Pop Tarts and to focus on eating real, whole foods.
Sometimes, I wonder if I would be in a different position today. But, I can’t go back in time. All I can do is hope that with my newfound and ever-growing knowledge, one day, I’ll heal myself. If during this process I can help people avoid disease and feel better on a daily basis, I’ll chalk the whole thing up to a win.