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Suddenly everyone's talking about a "Paleo" way of eating. What is this Paleo thing, and why would anyone want to eat that way?
The Paleo diet is essentially a healing diet that eliminates all grains, dairy, legumes and sugar. It was named "Paleo" because it mimics the way our caveman ancestors might have eaten, but just because it has a cutesy name, doesn't mean it's a trendy eating plan that should be dismissed for lack of scientific basis.
Many of Paleo's detractors try to argue that we can't know what our ancestors ate, or that the Paleo diet doesn't completely follow ancient eating patterns, or even that eating this way is harmful to your health, but in fact, eliminating grains really has less to do with what any past people might have eaten, and much more to do with the proven links between high carbohydrate intake and the current explosion of lifestyle-driven illnesses like diabetes and obesity.
In short, there is quite a bit of scientific evidence that diets high in carbohydrates, grains, dairy and refined sugar CAUSE such illnesses as Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, obesity, and many more. In addition, certain elements in grains, dairy and sugar also cause a condition called Leaky Gut, which is a precursor to food allergies and autoimmune disorders. See the proofs here, here, here, here and here.
The strongest evidence that following a Paleo diet is not simply good for you, but can reverse the damage done by chronic inflammation and autoimmune illness, is that people who eat this way get better.
That's right. People who eliminate grains, dairy and sugar from their diets can reverse the effects of diabetes, insulin resistance, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, thyroid disease, ADHD, autism, Lupus and more.
I won't restate the wonderful work done by the experts in this field. You can find well-written explanations of this phenomenon here, here, here and here. I will say, though, that I was a sceptic about the effectiveness of the Paleo diet at healing, but once I tried it and saw results, I became a true believer.
After a decade of struggling with an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder and food allergies, with symptoms including low thyroid, weight that wouldn't budge, crippling depression, acne, erratic mood swings, severe stomach pains, alternating constipation and diarrhea, debilitating arthritic back pain, cyclical migraine headaches, and more, I finally found relief from diet. No medicine ever worked. No doctor (and there were many) suggested any workable solutions. No other diet had any effect. It was the Paleo diet and nothing else that solved all of my myriad, seemingly unrelated issues.
It wasn't easy. Eliminating grains means cooking a lot of things from scratch, and passing on many of the conventional foods that social gatherings are built around. No more pizza, birthday cake, or even crackers and cheese at parties. It wasn't easy, but it was so worth it.
I say to people when they ask me how I lost 35 pounds (most people don't know about the rest), I only could have done it because I was desperate. I was in such bad shape when I started, I struggled through the sugar detox headaches, and the cravings, and the days I had to carry food with me everywhere, because I didn't have any other options. I was miserable, and this diet was my light at the end of the tunnel. And it worked, and (again) it was worth it.
I've been on the receiving end of so many weird looks, and so many shaking heads, and so many rolled eyes. The Paleo diet doesn't sound right. How can it be healthy to eliminate whole entire food groups?! What's so bad about a little grain? How will you ever get enough calcium if you eliminate dairy? Why would you deny your children the traditional staples like chocolate birthday cake, ice cream cones in the summertime, pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, and candy at Halloween??
I know. I know! It's not easy. It's not popular. It's not even logical to most people. But IT REALLY WORKS. Eating the Paleo way makes you feel healthy, energetic, clear-headed, strong, pain-free, and like a functioning person again. And not only have I reversed the effects of my autoimmune disorder (PCOS), but I feel so relieved that I can prevent my children from suffering the same fate.
Anyone suffering from autoimmune disease can tell you -- the symptoms aren't blatantly obvious, but the effects are tremendous. Lives revolve around managing pain, or intestinal irregularities, or debilitating fatigue, or overwhelming emotional reactions like depression. The chance to live like a "normal" person again is worth more than the fleeting satisfaction of eating a dessert or a piece of bread.
I follow the AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) of the Paleo plan, which is a stricter version that eliminates eggs, nuts, seeds, and nightshade vegetables along with the grains, dairy, legumes and sugar. My children follow an 80/20 version of Paleo that allows them to share a few grain exceptions with their friends on special occasions (they remain gluten free during these times). My husband eats Paleo at home, but non-Paleo at work or on business trips. Eating this way requires a lot of preparation, forethought, and focus on food, but it frees us from so much more.
The fact that you are visiting this site makes the chances that you have food allergies fairly high. This diet works very well to eliminate allergens and also heal leaky gut at the same time. It might just be what you're looking for.
Coming up this week: my top five favorite easy Paleo dinners. For those nights when you just don't have the time or energy to make something that requires more than 3 ingredients and 2 steps!
For more information about the Paleo diet and reversing autoimmune disease, check out these blogs:
The Paleo Mom
The Paleo Diet
Mark's Daily Apple