I first came across the paleo diet back in 2006. It wasn’t called “paleo” back then– it was called the “stone age” or “caveman” diet. I found it on some obscure website, the color of which was mostly chocolate brown with an image of Paleolithic man crouched over a fire. It wasn’t a particularly attractive look.
The website talked about using something called arrowroot and listed a very few number of foods. As our “go-to” food at the time was Mac ‘n’ cheese out of a box, this alternative seemed seriously extreme, incredibly dull and completely un-doable for a young family. I decided it was only for complete health nuts, and moved on.
I’d been looking for ways to improve my family’s health. We were sick a lot, and I was suffering from a whole range of vague, but debilitating health problems. We were spending far too much time at the doctors, and taking too many medications for my liking. I was convinced that our diet lay at the heart of our problems. It had struck me that I had been sick for virtually my whole life.
I’d spent much of my early childhood on medications of various kinds. I’d had just about every childhood illness going. I’d had my tonsils removed at age seven due to repeated bouts of tonsillitis. I’d even had scarlet fever. Once my body had dealt with those, my health challenges moved around my body to my skin, my fertility, and a long battle with endometriosis that, although managed with medication, endured for two decades with the only light on the horizon being menopause.
Finally, I devastatingly suffered a second-trimester loss, followed shortly afterward by a diagnosis of Epstein Barr, the virus that causes mononucleosis, from which I just couldn’t seem to recover. I’d got to the age of forty-two and could count on one hand the number of years during which I’d enjoyed rude health – and I was so young during those healthy years, I couldn’t even remember them! This awareness was eye-opening. Why had I spent most of my years on this earth, sick?
At first, after having dismissed that early version of paleo, I focused on eliminating foods from the diet we typically ate. I removed processed food full of dyes and artificial colors, especially high fructose corn syrup, then salicylates (chemicals found naturally in plants and a major ingredient of aspirin and other pain-relieving medications), gluten and casein. Over the course of four years, I read and tested so many ideas out on my family, they would roll their eyes every time I suggested my latest one. It was only later that I realized I’d been moving in a paleo direction all along without realizing it.
I’d like to say our progress to a clean diet and vibrant health was linear and straightforward, but the fact of the matter was that with little support, our commitment to a healthy diet waxed and waned over those years. We modified our lifestyle, homeschooled one of our boys, and took our own food to parties. But it was difficult to sustain both the kid’s enthusiasm and our own for our limited diet. We had seriously different attitudes towards food compared with those of families around us, and I was met with resistance from both within and outside my family. At times, I felt like one of those health nuts I figured must be following that diet I’d rejected earlier!
Meanwhile, we zig-zagged our way through daily life, trying to stay consistent with our diet, but failing many times. I was constantly learning and experimenting. I was gaining skills as a cook, skills that had been non-existent previously, and organizing our meals and our home so that it supported our goals. Each time we fell off the wagon, we’d climb back on again, but I, in particular, was finding it difficult to kick the sugar and wheat products. I had neither a weight problem, nor a health problem that directly correlated with the two foods in my mind, and I resisted enormously the idea they were a serious problem to my health.
I kept resolving over and over to stay away from them. I’d be fine for a few days, but then something would come up, and I’d succumb. Of course, it didn’t help that I hoarded both wheat and sugar in their various forms: bars of chocolate, cakes, and packets of cookies were all stashed away in various parts of my house. Doing that made me feel safe. It made me feel I had an outlet for my feelings when things got too much. I could sit down and eat some treat food, and relax.
And things did get too much. Daily, in fact. Cakes, cookies and chocolate were my friends, my comfort, and my solace when times got tough. Sometimes, when life was rough with young kids, I felt eating my stash was the only fun I had. I didn’t want to give them up. But I was getting increasingly frustrated with my inability to manage my cravings.
Finally, after one vacation back to my home in England, having gorged my way through enough cake and scones to satisfy an army, and frustrated with my seeming inability to resist my treasured childhood foods in even moderate amounts, I resolved that I needed to make some serious changes to my diet. I was still in pain from my endometriosis, I felt exhausted all the time, I couldn’t focus, I needed to nap most days. The anxiety I felt at never knowing if I’d wake up each morning with the energy to complete the day’s activity was consuming.
In July 2010, from the moment the airplane wheels hit the tarmac, I stopped eating wheat. That was the only goal I set myself. I had a few failures, but I started to notice the situations that sabotaged me. I would set up strategies ahead of time to deal with them. I made good progress and started to get more confident in my ability to kick the habit.
I was still eating sugar in all its forms, however, and my resolve might have dissolved the way it had in the past if I hadn’t stumbled across a reference to paleo by chance on a completely unrelated website shortly thereafter. Cogs started to whirr in my brain, and I remembered the references to it all those years ago. But now things were different. A quick search uncovered wonderfully informative websites, supporting science, and glorious cookbooks!
I grabbed a copy of The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, and after reading it, finally felt vindicated. Here was an author stating in black and white what I had intuitively felt for years. Oh, happy day! The support, information, and conviction enabled me to press on, crafting, refining, and polishing strategies, systems and processes to support our conversion to this lifestyle and remove my addiction to sugar. I had learned over the years that it isn’t easy to make this kind of change – if it was, we’d all be doing it.
I am now healthier than I have been since I was a young child. My energy is fabulous, and I can focus just fine. I maintain my weight effortlessly. I haven’t been sick in months and months. I can go hours without food. I feel proud of my ability to limit the sugar. I can finally live the life I was meant to live.
There is no going back. Now that I’ve connected the dots between lifelong illness and my diet, and experienced a tremendous improvement in the quality of my life by merely changing what I eat, it’s become a no-brainer. But as you’ve read, it was a winding, circuitous route that I took, with no-one to guide me.
That process lasted years with many stumbles, much frustration and a multitude of learning opportunities. But now it is simple, now that I’ve developed the skills in managing the lifestyle and building environmental supports.
For many of us the road to health is similar. We go down paths, sure that we are on our way, only to find ourselves blocked or even more lost than when we began. Eventually, with persistence, we find ourselves on the right path (and if you’re reading this, you are on the right path) but the road is bumpy, full of potholes and we find ourselves discouraged at points along the way.
It can be tough, it can take time, we can be dissuaded at any point.
Simply knowing what and why we should do something doesn’t necessarily make it happen. Like I said earlier, if that’s all it took, we’d all be doing it. So I put down in The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo all I learned over the years about the skills involved in embedding paleo as a way of life. Think of it as a manual on the “how of paleo.”
Accept only an optimal life for yourself. It’s the only one you have. Dream of how you wish your life to be, then put in place the actions to get you there. And when problems arise or things don’t go as planned, keep on, keepin’ on. Success in life comes to those who are persistent.
I wish you great health, much fulfillment and happiness. Enjoy!
Have you experienced sugar addiction? Have you beaten it? Tell us in the comments!I really appreciate it when people reply with thoughtful comments. Honestly, it makes my day.
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