Do Paleo and Surgery Mix? How One Woman Lost 125lbs


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Orleatha Smith came into my worldview after Paleo f(x.) She was a speaker support volunteer there and people, including paleo luminaries, raved about her.

I read her fabulous and inspirational weight-loss story (check out those pictures!) on her site, Mrs Paleo, but also noticed that there was something different about her story compared to those one often reads about: she’d had gastric bypass surgery.

So how does Orleatha (pronounced or-LEE-thuh) go from major surgery to advocating paleo? Isn’t surgery the very antithesis of a paleo success story, paleo diet, paleo, weight loss, weight loss surgery, gastric bypasspaleo lifestyle?

Well yes…and no. Orleatha’s experience of both surgery and the paleo diet give her a unique angle from which to appraise both approaches; an angle that is rarely recognized or appreciated.

And it is an angle that can reinforce those of us who are rockin’ the paleo lifestyle and has the potential to influence those who currently don’t.

For anyone considering a gastric bypass or even a band, it is critical to hear her viewpoint. If you know someone who is planning to have, or already has had, the surgery, please share this story with them. Because Orleatha’s been there. She knows what she’s talking about. Read on to hear her views on gastric surgery and she how transitioned to paleo.

(Go over to the Facebook page to hear more about Orleatha, her plans for the future, her family’s favorite recipes – they’re awesome by the way, my own family love ’em – and her upcoming recipe book for super cooks!)

Over to Orleatha…

You are open about the fact that you had a gastric bypass before you went paleo. What was the trigger to finally ditch the weight?
I had tried every ‘diet’ known to man. I counted points, grams, ounces, ate out of boxes and bags, got B-12 injections, fasted, drank gallons of water, ate only grapes or cabbage soup.

One day, I was sitting in my doctors office and he came in with the results of my bloodwork. My thyroid hormones were out of whack, my blood pressure was elevated and to top it off, my stroke number was 5 times higher than it should have been! All at the ripe old age of 30. I felt like gastric surgery was my only option for ‘success’.

You can imagine my dismay when the weight started to creep back on. I panicked and went right back into ‘diet’ mode but the weight wouldn’t budge. It was then that my friend told me about the paleo lifestyle. She had converted her entire family and had successfully resolved her Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. She’d dropped 3 dress sizes and was full of energy. I had to try it – what did I have to lose?? I did my first Whole30 and haven’t looked back.

paleo success story, paleo diet, paleo, weight loss, weight loss surgery, gastric bypass

You had tried every diet under the sun, often multiple times, what was different about paleo?
It is sustainable. I can do this forever. Other diets and plans were not really sustainable for me because they relied on frozen this or that, or I had to go to a meeting or I had to eat boring food and starve the rest of the day!

Paleo also taught me to listen to my body. If I am eating a boat-load of protein and start to feel lethargic then maybe it’s my body saying “Hey, I don’t like that” so I should back off. If I’m hungry, I eat. If I’m not, I don’t. It’s super simple and I think that’s what makes it complicated for some.

How paleo are you?
I’m 99% paleo. Eczema is an autoimmune response and I was literally covered from birth in that itchy scaly rash! If I eat off paleo, I have horrible flares. Keeps me pretty on track.

What benefits have you seen from paleo besides weight-loss?
Since I was 2 days old, I was plastered in eczema. It was so bad, that I was in the Mayo Clinic for a month. That eczema is now two tiny patches – one on my left foot and the other on my right hand (go figure).

I haven’t had an asthma attack in almost two years! I went from at least two sinus infections a year to none. I had tendonitis in my achilles tendon so bad that I couldn’t wear flat shoes and hobbled daily. I used to be so exhausted that I would pass out on the couch after dinner. I was asleep by 8pm and still woke up exhausted.

Now I have so much energy my 4- and 6-year old can hardly keep up! I don’t use an alarm clock because I’m usually up before it would have gone off anyway.

How much did you lose with the bypass and then how much with paleo?
This is a little complicated because I lost 90lbs with gastric then gained 20lbs back. I then lost that 20lbs plus 35lbs more with paleo. I’ve maintained my total weight-loss of 125lbs for over a year!

So you lost weight after the gastric bypass but then started to put the weight back on again. And once you converted to paleo you saw not only weight-loss but also health gains. What do you say to people who are considering surgery?
I completely empathize with those who are considering surgery! I know the shame associated with it all too well. I know the pain of feeling like undergoing this HUGE surgery is the last resort – like it’s the magic bullet. Some refer to gastric bypass as ‘the easy way’ – it is not! It’s the hardest thing I have ever done.

The first year is the sweet-spot for weight loss – after that, the body starts to return to normal. At the two year point, you will likely be able to eat whatever you could before you had surgery. If you have not changed your mindset, you will gain the weight back. Of course no surgeon will ever tell you this…

Surgery is a weight-loss tool – not a health-gaining tool. My advice: Find a sustainable health-gaining program and do that instead. I recommend paleo! 🙂

Did you get any negative reactions to losing such a large amount of weight? How much have you lost entirely?
I’m really glad that you asked this question because I never imagined that anyone would have a negative reaction to my weight-loss. I went from 260lbs to 135lbs so I’ve lost 125lbs. I also lost almost every ‘close’ girlfriend I had when I was obese. I remember sitting on my couch crying because my friends had yet another girl’s night without me – of course Facebook tells all. 🙂

What actions did you take to protect yourself from the negativity and the threat of being derailed in your process?
I think that the gastric bypass made my situation worse. At the time, my food intake was restricted so I could only eat tiny amounts of food at a time making my old pal – emotional eating – unavailable. I transferred that addiction to working out. When my old circle would snub me, I’d go work out. I completed a few rounds of P90X then moved to roller blading and weight lifting. I do want to applaud the rock solid support that I received from my husband. He was such a comfort when all of my childhood friends ditched me. He held my hand when I cried, took me out to get my mind off of it or would give me a gift card for new shoes! 🙂

paleo success story, paleo diet, paleo, weight loss, weight loss surgery, gastric bypassWhat decisions about your eating, your life, do you make that are different than before you lost the weight? What positive things have happened?
I have evolved so much in the last few years! I am empowered to make the best decisions for my life and not others. Along the way, I’ve found that I have to do what is right for me – without regard for what other people think.

For the first time in my life I’m okay with being different. I don’t mind telling people (kindly) that I won’t be partaking in their feasts consisting of standard American diet foods. I ask a million questions at restaurants. I now have a local farmer and hit the farmer’s market every week for my organic veggies and pastured eggs.

I am having so much fun and have renewed zeal for cooking! I love knowing that I’m giving my family the very best that I have to offer. They deserve at least 30 minutes of my day to prepare a nutritious, and might I add, delicious meal for them!

Did you have any role models to look up to? What habits did you instill to help you lose weight? Which do you still use?
Funny enough, my role models have nothing to do with health/fitness. My biggest role model is Steven R. Covey. His The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People changed my life. So much so that I decided to become certified in the program!

The biggest habit that I instill is Habit One from The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People – Be Proactive. This is the habit of ownership: that I am in control of my environment and in control of how I respond to it. Keeping this habit at the forefront helps me to plan out events and situations so that when they present themselves, I am already prepared. It eliminates the blame game. It empowers!

paleo success story, paleo diet, paleo, weight loss, weight loss surgery, gastric bypass

Orleatha with Bill and Hayley from Primal Palate at Paleo f(x)

What does a typical day look like for you eating-wise?
I’ll tell you what I had today. I hate breakfast – there I said it! So I usually skip breakfast. I had hot black coffee blended with coconut oil, cinnamon and turmeric.

For a snack, I had a mini-meal of kippers and baby carrots. For lunch, I had grass-fed ground beef, with mushrooms and onions sautéd in butter. Dinner is meatloaf, mashed sweet potatoes and roasted asparagus. My activity this evening will be a rousing game of tag with my kiddos followed by 10 minutes on the rebounder.

Your husband looks like he’s slimmed down too, was he fully on board or did you drag him kicking and screaming?
He was an unwilling partner. I did not pester him or become the food police. Instead, I chose to lead by example. He started by going 70/30 then when he noticed that my clients were surpassing his efforts, he went whole hog!

Are your kids completely paleo? Do you allow them any leeway?
I have two little ones, who are 4 and 6. They are 80% paleo because trips to Grandma’s house entails lots of SAD foods. I don’t want them to have an unhealthy relationship with food so I let them be.

How do you handle birthday parties, school events and outside meals with your kids?
I do help them realize that when they eat bad foods, they feel bad. It works out because every time they come home from Grandma’s or go to parties and have cake they bring home a tummy-ache with them. My 6-year old has learned that bad food makes him feel bad and will say “no thank you” to foods that he knows are not good – I’m sure my 4 year old will follow suit soon.

Have you noticed any changes in their health or behavior?
I think the biggest benefit to having paleo kids is that we only go to the doctor for well checks. My kids are never sick. My daughter was also born with eczema but only has flares after eating outside foods.

How did you transition them?
My kids are young so they are less vocal about what they do and don’t want. Working paleo into their lives was almost painless. I made replacements for the foods that they used to love like pizza and nuggets. I help them recognize that eating good food makes us strong and healthy and also help them connect the dots with regard to bad food making them feel bad.


Don’t you think that is all so interesting? I do. There is so much to learn from people who have walked the walk. These are the insights I took away from Orleatha story:

  • Surgery is not a long-term solution. And it won’t help with many food-related health issues.
  • An unwavering total commitment to paleo: 99% is hardcore!
  • Self-advocacy : just like Tara Grant who I profiled earlier and who lost 115lbs with paleo, Orleatha put herself first, no matter the consequences to her social circle.
  • Support: Again, like Tara, she had a small but dedicated support group – in her case, her husband.
  • The willingness to experiment: she made (and kept making) food that worked for her.
  • An unwillingness to accept the status quo: recognizing the simple and utter futility of the alternative – the micromanaging, the diet products, the deprivation.
  • She became a leader: from her husband to her kids to her clients, Orleatha led the way but led herself out of the SAD wilderness first.
  • The sustainability of paleo under these conditions: personal leadership, experimentation, commitment.

What is inspirational to you about Orleatha’s story? How can you take her insights and make them work for you? Would you consider gastric bypass surgery? Tell us in the comments!

If you enjoyed this interview, especially if you know of someone thinking of surgery, please pay it forward and inspire others. Share this post on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Google +. Please. There are buttons in the floating sidebar to your left.

And remember to check out Orleatha’s bonus material on the PaleoNonPaleo Facebook page!


amazon, modern no nonsense guide to paleoAre you struggling to sustain a paleo lifestyle change? Or not sure how to start? Or perhaps those around you are resistant and you’re feeling undermined and unsure. The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo provides practical tools to ease the transition to a full-on paleo life. Each chapter includes strategies, tips and checklists to identify the actions to power you on your paleo journey and create sustainable change. Buy it at

Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

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