Go Paleo? Why Dana Turned “Cavewoman”
Welcome Dana Vanhoy of Salisbury, N.C., guest author and friend of Team Film, to our blog!
“Let’s face it, when you read the ingredients label on a package of Oreos, 95% of the ingredients weren’t around 10,000 years ago.”
By now, just about anyone who is into fitness and health has most likely heard of the Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman diet” or the “primal diet.” I didn’t purposely set out to drastically change my eating habits, but recent health concerns (I was diagnosed with a rare, unpronounceable autoimmune disease in 2012) prompted me to seek out alternatives to conventional medicine to control the flare-ups of my disease.
The first self-help book I read was The Immune System Recovery Plan by Susan Blum, MD, MPH. What I learned in this book is that part of the cause for autoimmune diseases, among other things, is what’s known as “leaky gut.” Without going into great detail and using big fancy words, basically leaky gut allows for food particles to leak into your blood stream. Those particles are viewed by the good cells that fight off diseases as foreign bodies and so they attack, thereby causing flare-ups.
In the book she advises visiting a functional medicine doctor, which I did. I found a brilliant doctor two hours away from my North Carolina home. Her first order of business was to administer some tests, which confirmed that I was suffering from leaky gut. In conjunction with the tests, she put me on an elimination diet known as Whole 30. The Whole 30 program is the mother of all elimination diets and has its roots firmly planted in the Paleo way of eating.
I eagerly ordered a copy of the book It Starts With Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, which explains the Whole 30 program. For 30 days you eat nothing but vegetables, fruit and proteins cooked in healthy fats (think coconut oil). This meant abandoning my nightly habit of a stack of Oreos with a glass of milk. And how could I give up my morning coffee sweetened with sugar and creamer?! But if my options were a) be on drugs for the rest of my life or b) change up my eating habits and not be on drugs the rest of my life, the choice was obvious.
Put in perspective, what’s really tough?
Getting through those 30 days was tough. As the authors of the book point out, surviving cancer is tough. Eating healthy foods for 30 days is NOT tough. And yeah, when you put it in that context, it’s not tough. But when you’re the BAKERY Merchandising Manager for a large chain of grocery stores in the south (like I am), it is difficult to pass up the delicious bakery samples that cross my desk. Once I was through my 30 days, I was too scared to add any foods back in. But eventually I tried dairy products and realized I felt bloated afterward. Soy gives me a headache. Gluten causes me to itch. White sugar causes me inflammation. The good news is, ever since adopting the Paleo way of eating, I’ve healed my leaky gut, I’ve not had a flare-up and I’ve been completely off meds since May of 2014.
When people ask me what kinds of things I eat on the Paleo diet, I sum it up by saying, “I try not to eat anything manufactured.” Let’s face it, when you read the ingredients label on a package of Oreos, 95% of the ingredients weren’t around 10,000 years ago. High oleic canola oil? High fructose corn syrup? Soy lecithin? What? These days I make my own salad dressing so I can avoid corn syrup. I make my own mayonnaise so I can avoid soybean oil and eggs. I have almond milk in my coffee. I eat a green salad with turkey for lunch (topped with my homemade salad dressing). Dinner is a protein (I love pork chops from a pasture raised pig) with a vegetable (sweet potatoes are a favorite).
In learning about the Paleo diet, there seem to be two streams of thought: one is that you should avoid all sweet treats because of our intense addiction to sweet/sugary items and the other is that you can enjoy “Paleofied treats” every now and again because hey, we’re only human. We are genetically programmed to enjoy sweet tasting foods. I fall into the second camp not only because I’m a Bakery Merchandising Manager but because I have a 2½ year old son and I want him to be able to enjoy sweet foods on occasion. But those sweet treats are now made with almond flour, honey and dairy-free chocolate chips.
As a side note, my oldest sister wanted to show her support of me and decided to do a Whole 30 elimination diet as well. She had recently put on a lot of weight even though she ran at least 3 miles every day. She thought for sure her weight gain was hormone related but doctors confirmed it wasn’t. After completing the Whole 30 program, she had lost 15 pounds. She too decided to simply continue eating Paleo and has lost a total of 30 pounds and has more energy than she’s ever had. She’s now training for a ½ marathon (she’s 52) and has added strength training and a boot camp class to her weekly workouts.
Hard-core Paleo lifestyle devotees participate in Cross Fit at their local “box” (the lingo for a Cross Fit gym). I haven’t branched out into that avenue of Paleo yet…chasing my 2½ year old keeps me fit enough for now.