“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.
Sometimes when I begin to tell my story, I find it difficult to decide where to begin. As anyone who has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis knows, you may suffer from signs and symptoms for a very long time with no explanation as to what is causing them. Throughout my life I have suffered from depression, severe headaches, worsening nearsightedness and fatigue. I used to think that being unhappy was just part of who I was. I struggled with low self-esteem, extreme shyness and social anxiety, and dysfunctional relationships until my early twenties. I didn’t get sick particularly often but when I did, boy did I get sick. I even came down with Mono during my sophomore year in college.
During college I began binge drinking and partying multiple times a week. I typically ate any and everything that tasted good; I drank about a gallon of milk a week, slept during the day and stayed up all hours of the night. I was physically active and always stayed reasonably thin so I felt invincible. Then suddenly, my lifelong pattern of negative, self-destructive thinking and poor lifestyle habits begin to manifest in the physical realm. As a senior in college I had a rough year. I had gone through a terrible breakup and became estranged from my two best friends. Alone, things seemed to be spiraling out of control. Yet looking back they were actually falling right into place.
One day as I was taking a shower and I noticed that when I ran my sponge across my abdomen, something didn’t feel quite right. My skin was numb to the touch. This continued for a long while and the skin around my lower back loss sensation as well. I decided to go see my family doctor about it and wasn’t given much insight. In his words it may have just been something “funky”. Yet he sent me off for an MRI to rule out MS, just in case. The MRI came back normal and I was sent on my way to hope the numbness would someday subside.
Next I began having issues with those pesky Candida albicans and reoccurring bladder infections. My doctors insisted that all I needed to do was take the medicine they gave me and that there was nothing I could do to prevent this type of thing. I was told that it was just something that women get. Well, I have always been the stubborn type and I don’t take kindly to people telling me things that don’t make sense. So I turned to Google to help me understand what could be causing the symptoms I was having. At that time I came across a few websites that suggested avoiding breads, beer, sugar, and dairy, so I tried it. For the next two years I saw improvement. I found myself watching every food documentary I could find and I was convinced that the vegetarian diet was the way to go. The only problem was that I still did not actually understand how to make intelligent food choices based on what my body needed.
Next I began to suffer from anxiety. I was actually diagnosed with an anxiety disorder after an episode of several severe panic attacks and placed on Prozac. Again, me being the stubborn chick I am, I researched and found ways to overcome anxiety mentally and was able to go off of the medication within a couple of months. However, those panic attacks had a huge effect on me. When you have a panic attack for the first time, you may believe you are actually dying, and I did. Thoughts of the reality of death haunted me daily and I began to be faced with my own mortality.
I was beginning to wake up from a lifelong slumber. I began to have realizations about life and that I had not really been living it. Sadly, I eventually went back to drinking alcohol and eating outside of the weak dietary guidelines I had made for myself. I soon found myself in a career field that I did not enjoy, stressed out, exhausted, and depressed again.
I had developed a love for alternative cooking as I had dabbled with raw food and vegan desserts. I had watched family members struggle with their health because of a lack nutritional knowledge and the false belief that they could not reverse their conditions. I knew deep down that I wanted to turn my passion for healthy creative baking and cooking into a career, yet somehow found myself wasting away from the inside out in a hectic sales position.
Loa Tzu said, “Only when we are sick of the sickness, shall we cease to be sick.” Well I was finally sick of being sick. I decided to quit the job I felt was draining my life force. I enrolled in a local college for Pastry Arts and got a part time job as a cake decorator. During the semester, I typically worked from about 8am-4pm and then headed to class that same evening from 5:30pm to 10:40pm. Needless to say I was running myself ragged. This left me little time to cook and I was pounding Starbucks coffee and bringing home endless bags of bread and cookies that we were making in class daily. Two months into this routine, I loss sensation in my fingertips. I brushed it off for a while and thought that maybe I had just been handling too many frozen sheet pans at work. However, the numbness got worse and soon I felt like I was wearing gloves all of the time. Next, the numbness in my stomach and back returned, accompanied by the notorious MS hug. This feels like a tight elastic band around your midsection. I hoped that these odd sensations would eventually go away like they did once before. Soon, my arms began suddenly going to sleep which progressed into electric shock pain that shot through my back and shoulders all the way down my arms to my fingers, leaving my hands numb and paralyzed for minutes at a time. At this point my family doctor was having a hard time blaming anxiety. I was sent off for MRI’s once again. After my second MRI, upon sitting up my left leg filled with a burning pain and began to convulse uncontrollably on the table. Upon standing I temporary lost the ability to lift my legs and walk.
This time they found abnormalities in both my spinal chord and brain. My cold, uncaring neurologist simply stated that I had MS and rudely answered my mother’s concerns with short, empty responses. He invited me to schedule a spinal tap and to look over the latest and greatest drug options with him. Well, I declined. I accepted steroid treatments but at the same time I diligently began to research how diet can affect, cause, and/or reverse multiple sclerosis. I stumbled across the Dr. Terry Walhs recovery story on TED and I immediately wanted to know more about this Paleo thing. Paleo seemed to be the first diet I came across that actually made sense.
Just a few weeks later a friend of mine messaged me on Facebook recommending Sarah Ballantyne’s book, The Paleo Approach. I immediately purchased it on Kindle and began devouring the information. I was initially torn between feelings of anger and disbelief. I felt as if I had been drugged by the food industry and I felt that if only I had known these things before I could have prevented a lot of the agony and pain endured by my family and myself. My grandmother had just passed in January due to complications of many diseases she had developed including autoimmune diseases, diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease.
Every time a new dietary change was recommended I put it into effect immediately. I was then referred to a local nutrition counselor at Living Well Chiropractic in Dacusville, South Carolina. My new doctor (my only current doctor) was relieved that I had already given up dairy and gluten and helped me to fully adopt the autoimmune protocol. She also provided me with vitamin, herb, and mineral supplements to aid my progress. I officially began the Autoimmune Protocol in March 2014. At that time I was on Paxil for anxiety, Neurontin for pain, and Flexeril for muscle spasms. I was forced to quit my job and I was barely making it through my classes. I began spending my days with a chair near the stove, cooking Paleo meals that I could take to class with me to have during our break. My classmates often carried my bags, drove me home, and stirred lots of chocolate for me!
Four months later, after enduring sugar detox, major yeast die off, healing of my leaky gut, and avoiding gluten like the plague, I have been able to discontinue all medications. I try to meditate regularly, sun bathe, and I practice hulahoop dancing and walking as exercise. The electric shock pains disappeared about a month ago. All anxiety is gone, I am happy and full of life, and I had enough energy and strength to take a 7 mile hike up Table Rock Mountain just a few weeks ago. I still have a little way to go but I am ecstatic with my recovery thus far. I feel better than I have ever felt in my life, emotionally and physically. I feel that part of my speedy recovery is due to my positive mind set. I never let physicians convince me that I was incurable. Honestly, in my mind I was never convinced that MS was real, since no one could explain to me what it was or what caused it. They could not even clearly explain to me how they could diagnose it. To me it seemed to be more of a description than a disease. My neurologist stated, “These lesions can ONLY be caused by MS” then in the next contradicting breath he exhaled, “but we will have to order a spinal tap to be sure.” Wait, what?
One of my infusion nurses pulled me into a room alone and begged me, nearly in tears, to have the spinal tap done and to start on MS medication immediately. She had heard that I was hesitant and insisted that diet didn’t work and she had witnessed countless patients being bound to wheelchairs. The first question that popped in my head was, how did you know I didn’t want the spinal tap? Who told you that? Wow, what a sales job.
She said that she suffered from IBS which was also incurable. She then elaborated on the lovely pecan, glazed, pastries she indulged in for breakfast daily. If I hadn’t had that silly IV in my arm I would have probably ran away as fast as I could!
I believe that it is very important to know what you are eating and why you are eating it. It was impossible for me to eat “healthy” when I had no idea what effect different types of substances had on my body. I also had no idea how to listen to what my body was trying to tell me. The Paleo Approach holds a wealth of knowledge that will not just give you a list of do’s and don’ts, but it will give you a new framework of thinking that shapes your every food decision from here on out. When we are consciously making choices about the fuel we put in our bodies, we create a healthy body mentally and physically. We are able to start believing that things will get better and that everything will be all right, because we understand that we are making decisions that can only push us towards that reality.
I look at illness as a wakeup call. The body wants us to pay attention to its needs. When we don’t pay attention, it begins to feel unloved and deprived. Then, when things get to a critical low, your body will scream out to you in pain. Don’t ignore this cry. Your body wants to be nourished and healed and this is why it is crying out to you. If it did not want to be healed it would just silently wither away. Take the thoughts of; “I have this disease” out of your vocabulary because that can easily turn into “I AM this disease”. You are not your disease. You are a powerful creative being that has the ability to recreate health in your life, mind and body.
I will graduate from the pastry arts program in August this year and I have decided to tackle my lifelong dream of starting my own business. My vision is to open a Bakery Café that will also be a center for healing in my community. The hardest thing about eating Paleo is finding convenience foods. In a fast paced society where most people eat lunch on the go, it can be extremely difficult to track down a nutritious meal during a 30-60 minute lunch break. I would like to provide people with safe gluten free and Paleo options, raise awareness about autoimmune disease, and educate people about the Paleo lifestyle through cooking and baking classes. I want to be able to provide beautifully decorated Paleo friendly wedding cakes, and birthday cakes for those who don’t want to be forced to compromise. I would also like to start a program that will sponsor alternative medical treatment for people in need. I have already begun reaching out to others in my community who would like to work together and make this a reality.
I must say a special thanks to my loving boyfriend Jeff who has stood by my side, taken care of my every need, put up with all my dietary demands, and made it possible for me to get through this. Also to my mom who has paid for my copious amounts of vitamins and supplements, read books with me, and led me to the right doctor.
Connect with Erica on her blog Light Guided Path where she tells her story, raises awareness, and shares Paleo recipes and tips. She is also on Facebook. Erica has created a GoFundMe page to help with bakery start up costs.