Before I started my Paleo eating experiment I used to dismiss stories about the sudden and surprising physical changes some women experience as they hit their 40’s as more mythology than fact. Then I celebrated my 40th birthday and realized that I was one of those women. It didn’t truly come on suddenly, but in the approximately 5 months prior to hitting 40 I was dealing with constant and increasing bloating and intestinal irritation. Evenings were the worst because my stomach would be distended and extremely uncomfortable with gas that wouldn’t just pass out but would roll around in great big uncomfortable bubbles.
I have always been a firm believer in natural healing and using food as my medicine so I set out to research what I could do to help myself. Up to that point I was the poster child for what we have been told is “Healthy Eating”, I ate organic whole foods such as fruits, veggies, organic eggs, organic dairy, plenty of whole grains, legumes and very rarely a bit of organic, pastured meat. I did not eat processed foods or excess sugar and I made sure to get my daily dose of probiotics in the form of organic plain yogurt. On paper I was doing everything right, so why did I have so much stomach trouble?
As I began searching for answers I remembered that my Dad and Step Mom had really changed their health for the better when they went Gluten Free, so I decided to start my research there. I found some very informative articles about the effect of gluten in the human body and the way it can irritate the digestive system to the point that it causes systemic inflammation in the body. From there it was natural that I would stumble upon the Paleo Diet.
Paleo eating is a style of eating that seeks to return to our paleolithic roots by only eating the types of foods that our ancient ancestors were evolved to eat. This basically means meats, fruits and vegetables. No grains, no dairy, no sugar, no legumes. A great explanation of why to eat this way, including plenty of biology and scientific explanations can be found in Robb Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet and also in It Starts with Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. To summarize the argument; agriculture and the eating of grains is too new of a development in the history of human kind for us to have truly evolved biological mechanisms for properly digesting and assimilating cereal grains, seeds, legumes, sugar and dairy products. In short, the human body is still in the stage of its evolution where it was designed to run on meats, vegetables and fruits.
When I first heard about Paleo I was completely skeptical but after reading the excellent scientific arguments in the books I mentioned and a ton of articles that further explained the science behind the diet, and also taking into account the dramatic change I witnessed in my own family, I decided that it was worth exploring this idea personally.
I decided to do a basic elimination diet as is commonly prescribed for the purposes of diagnosing food allergies. This approach is recommended in Robb Wolf’s book and is further elaborated on Whole9 (a paleo website by the Hartwigs). The idea behind any elimination diet is that you rest and reset your digestive system by removing any potentially irritating foods for 30 days, then you slowly reintroduce foods one by one to determine their affect on your system.
As I write this post I am on Day 7 of my 30 day elimination diet (the guidelines I am following are the Whole30 from the website Whole9). It has been a challenge to skip my beloved bread and cheese but I am happy to report that my stomach troubles have virtually disappeared. Another huge challenge for me was accepting that this diet focuses on eating meat. After 10 years of primarily lacto/ovo vegetarianism, eating meat seemed very foreign to me, but once I started I found myself saying “this is so good, why haven’t I had this in so long?”
Before I started my Whole30 I had some serious reservations about the impact of all that meat on my cardiac health, after all I became a vegetarian specifically because of a family history of heart disease. The more I read though, the more I started to question the validity of the “cholesterol and saturated fats will give you a heart attack” stance taken by mainstream medicine. Once I understood the real mechanism of cholesterol in the body, I finally felt comfortable taking this drastic step of completely overhauling my personal eating style. One thing I must say is that I would never have considered including meat into my diet if I wasn’t able to get organic, pastured, humanely raised products. I am well aware of what goes into factory farming of animals and I will not put factory farmed meats into my body or financially support a system that is so fundamentally unhealthy for both the animals and the people who eat them.
I know my friends and family who are reading this are thinking “no bread, no beans, no cheese! What the heck are you eating?!”. I am happy to report that the food choices both on the elimination diet (Whole30) and the regular Paleo eating lifestyle are fantastic! I can hardly believe that I am actually eating more veggies now than when I was “officially vegetarian”. My meals consist of the protein of my choice cooked to my liking without restricting fat (as long as it is not from a seed oil) and as many different raw and cooked veggies as I could ever want. For dessert I enjoy the same delicious fruits I always have except now there is no crust on my pie. This is not a weight reducing diet so there is no hunger or counting calories or fat grams, although I have lost weight this week, instead this is about giving your body nutrient dense foods and avoiding irritating and inflammatory foods.
It remains to be seen if this is a long term solution for the issues I was dealing with. The first week has been very positive and I am so curious to see what happens after the 30 days are up and I reintroduce grains, dairy and legumes. I truly hope that this Whole30 is the diagnostic tool I need to figure out what foods do not agree with me. In the meantime, I am enjoying some delicious foods and I have increased my knowledge about how the components of food affect our biology.
Stay tuned for an update on my Paleo Eating Experiment…
This post is participating in Fat Tuesday, Heart and Soul Blog Hop, Whole Food Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesdays, Foodie Friday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Monday Mania