“Real People, Real Paleo” is a series of posts written by real people who were inspired to share their paleo story with you. There is such diversity in the challenges that bring us to a paleo diet and lifestyle and in what we hope to achieve by adopting them. These stories are intended to be a place of inspiration, written by real people, showing the diversity of our needs and our approaches to this way of eating and living, and explaining how each individual’s implementation of paleo meets their needs. By sharing these people’s stories with you on my blog, I hope to redefine what paleo success is. I believe that paleo is about being healthy enough to thoroughly enjoy life, whatever that means for you, and about sustainability for our entire lives. If you are interested in writing up your story, please email my assistant Tamar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s funny how the course of events in only a few days can change the entire direction of your life.
Five years ago, almost to the day, my life took a turn I would never be able to reverse. After months of non-descript GI symptoms, college exams, and the overwhelming stress of finding my first job, I started to realize something was wrong. I couldn’t drink beer or eat bread without vicious symptoms and felt exhausted all day long, from the moment I woke up until I laid my head on the pillow at night. But as I started my first job as a nurse, I didn’t have time to contemplate those nagging issues.
Until one day when my body finally broke.
The day before, I had felt like a normal person with some digestive issues. The next day I felt like a shell of a person, succumbing quickly to an overpowering internal force. After a whirlwind of events, including my first embarrassing colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC), an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease. UC is part of a larger classification of disease called Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease).
I started a plethora of medications including steroids, ate very little, and honestly, tried not to think about my disease. How could this happen to me at only twenty-two years old? I was too young and it wasn’t fair, but I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to fight back.
In the middle of several years of ineffective treatments, continual flares, midnight visits to the emergency room, and severe dehydration, my mother glimpsed our first ray of hope. A friend told her about several diet approaches that combated digestive illness and that conversation set off months of research as we both tried to find an alternative solution to my chronic, desperate condition. I cycled through various diet approaches and slowly found some relief. I had fewer flares with less intensity. I was able to go longer between rounds of steroids. But I still had symptoms, even with the plethora of drugs my doctor had thrown at me.
I hesitantly started a regimen of intravenous medications designed to squelch my own immune activity in hopes of getting my disease to relent. And surprisingly, within days, I was symptom free for the first time in years. Thankfully it lasted for a year as I happily planned a wedding and got married. But after some very loose dietary allowances in the Caribbean including sugary drinks with my new husband, I started to feel the slow pull of my disease again.
Watching me get sick on our honeymoon, my husband decided we were going to make the change to Paleo once and for all. He was determined to help me combat this disease and we started the day we got back from our trip. Our new life together began with a whole new world of Paleo cooking, including some newlywed fights over what I could and couldn’t have to eat. He was steadfast and strict, not allowing me to cheat for my own good and I’m so thankful for his support and encouragement throughout that tough process. For exactly a year, we ate out at a restaurant only five times, cooking all of our food at home.
At first, I still had symptoms and it took several months to get them back to a minimal level. When I stopped eating sugars and carbs all together, consuming only broth and vegetables for a week, I went through a horrible bacterial die-off reaction as a result of gut dysbiosis with vehement hives over my entire body. I slept the week away with super-powerful Benadryl wondering what I had done to deserve this! But slowly I started to improve.
After two years of strictly following Paleo, I haven’t had a true flare. Even when I did have some distinct colitis symptoms, I squashed it within a week using only food, much to the amazement of my gastroenterologist. The steroids have sat untouched on my shelf, hopefully banished to oblivion. My disease isn’t entirely gone- I still have to get intravenous infusions and take oral medications. I wish I could relinquish it all but I’m not there yet. Maybe I will get there; maybe I won’t.
I believe the Paleo Diet is what keeps me in remission. I have relied on the Paleo Mom’s information to a huge degree in my healing process and have completed several rounds of the Autoimmune Paleo regimen, which restricts all foods that could potentially cause an immune reaction. It’s not easy, it’s not mainstream, and it’s probably not something that your GI doc will mention. But I advocate for it, believe in it and follow it because I would rather heal my body with natural, delicious foods.
Not surprisingly, our friends and family noticed our tasty fare and healthy lifestyle and wanted in on the fun. Now, it’s become a social way to involve others in healthy eating and reducing disease. For me, the trial of UC has opened doors to an opportunity to live better, eat better and walk in hope. With the help of the Paleo diet, I feel like I’ve gotten my life back. And it’s more delicious than ever.