How becoming die-hard paleo backfired on my body
I fell for the natural living movement hook, line, and sinker. In the span of a few weeks, I ditched all my harsh chemical cleaners and toiletries, I started reading every label in the grocery store to make sure I avoided food additives and dyes, and I started learning how to can my own tomatoes for sauce. But all of my dedication to natural living didn’t transform me into a picture of health – in fact, it landed me in the hospital.
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It’s not surprising that I was drawn in by the natural living movement’s promises of better health and wellness. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, a progressive genetic disease with no treatment or cure. Doctors focused on treating my symptoms, but they acknowledged there was nothing they could do to stop me from getting sicker. My future suddenly felt limited in a way I’d never imagined.
In my desperate search for a treatment, I stumbled across the paleo diet. I read paleo blog after paleo blog, and all of them assured me that anything could be cured by the right combination of food, supplements, and natural living. Food could be my medicine, they said, and with no other hope, I threw myself into transforming my lifestyle. I ditched processed foods and carbs, bought an essential oil diffuser, and started doing yoga. I was so enthusiastic about my lifestyle change that I even began my own paleo blog to chronicle my journey to good health.
At first, it seemed like everything I’d read was true. Following a paleo diet helped me lose weight almost immediately; it also cured my constant acid reflux and improved my migraines. I looked and felt better, and I couldn’t stop singing its praises. Flush with my success, I went to my doctors and asked them whether I really needed all of the medications they had me on. They only offered symptom relief, and I was convinced that through time the healthy food I was eating would make everything better. With my doctors’ blessing, I ditched all of my medications and focused on my new natural lifestyle.
It took me a long time to notice that I was weaker and had less energy while eating paleo, and even longer to admit it to myself. When I mentioned it to other people following the diet, they told me that I just needed to go even more hard-core paleo and remove even more foods from my diet. I gave up everything from eggs to nuts to tomatoes, but my energy levels didn’t improve. After about six months, things got so bad that my doctors ordered infusions at the hospital. I lay in a chair twice a week hooked up to an IV just to have enough energy to go to the grocery store. I was preparing all my meals from scratch, spending an hour or more in the kitchen each day, and I had no energy left for anything else. My life became small and limited.
I lost a lot of weight eating paleo. I dropped three pants sizes, and people often told me how great I looked. But I was pale, even for me, and I always had deep, black circles under my eyes. I didn’t look like any of the paleo bloggers on Instagram who wrote about their own health transformations, and as time went on, I looked worse, not better. Nothing about me felt healthy, and every day it seemed like my pain levels increased. My feet felt like they were being electrocuted, and my muscles ached so deeply that it felt like the pain was in my bones. No matter what I did, the pain was there, but I still didn’t quit. If natural living couldn’t cure me, what other options did I have?
I didn’t give up on the promises of natural living easily. I kept eating paleo, relying on essential oils and mindfulness for pain relief, until my IV infusions took their toll; after a few months, all of my veins were scarred and blown. The nurses started talking about a central line… which came with the risk of infections that could kill me. And that’s when I called it quits.
I’d embraced a natural lifestyle for health reasons, and I ditched it for health reasons too. I decided to see what medication and a steady dose of carbs throughout the day could do for me before I seriously considered a central line. I stopped spending hours on food shopping and preparation, and I even gave up worrying about every little ingredient in my food. I went back to premade sauces and simple meals, and I put my canning pot in the garage. I ate high-fructose corn syrup sometimes, and I stopped sweating every GMO in my tortillas.
There’s something to be said for choosing mostly whole foods. I still don’t eat most grains or dairy because they upset my stomach and give me migraines. I diffuse essential oils when my kids have a cold or cough, and I drop garlic oil in their ears when they get ear infections. Some aspects of natural living have been helpful for me, but it’s not a cure for everything, and that line of thinking is where I went wrong initially.
Eating too much of the wrong foods can cause health problems, but that doesn’t mean the opposite is true. There’s no such thing as a food cure, and not everyone can be healthy. My genes can’t be changed by cold-pressed juice and coconut oil, but my desperation made me an easy target for natural-living enthusiasts looking to sell books, supplements, and oils.
My story doesn’t have a happy ending, because that’s not how genetic diseases work. I won’t be cured by medicine or food, but I’m no longer in pain all day, because the prescription medications I take (the ones developed by Big Pharma) relieve my pain. I am happier and more independent because I’m in less pain, and I have more time now to focus on the things I love instead of wasting my energy in the kitchen. Ditching the natural living movement got me off the infusions and gave me my life back.
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