Just recently I had the privilege of guest posting for the terrific Paleo Parents blog! In that post I delved into my personal journey and how I came to find Paleo. Aside from a little information on my About page, this is the first time I have written more extensively about my health experiences and healing. After a few requests from readers to know more, I decided to go ahead and tell my story.
Below is the original post as it appeared on the Paleo Parents website:
My name is Lea and I am a wife to my husband, Gavin, and the mother of two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel. When I was growing up, my father emphasized the importance of being “well-rounded”. Maybe that is one reason I take a particular interest in health for the whole person. My blog Paleo Spirit is dedicated to exploring fitness for mind, body, soul and spirit. Even though most of the posts at Paleo Spirit are about food, I enjoy delving into physical fitness, spiritual matters and even the political realm from time to time. I am not Paleo Spirit but I believe I HAVE a Paleo Spirit and so does anyone else who embraces the ideal of pursuing health and fulfillment through simple, time-tested strategies. It’s really about the beauty of a “Back to Basics” approach to life. My experiences and challenges have led me to where I am now and I enjoy writing about physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
How I Found The Paleo Diet
In spite of generally good health, for almost as long as I can remember I have been prone to illness. It was nothing terribly serious but I had a tendency to fall prey to respiratory infections at least twice a year and usually more. My mother wondered why I seemed to require more rest than everyone else in the family. When trying to donate blood over the years I was repeatedly turned away because of a low-level anemia. It was never bad enough that doctors took it very seriously but I often wondered how this could be true in spite of a rather healthful diet full of iron-rich foods.
Fast forward to 2003 when I was busy working in my career and taking care of my husband and two-year old son. During a stressful time, and following a particularly nasty respiratory infection, I experienced a drastic change in my health. Out of the blue I noticed my heart racing with the least exertion, I had absolutely no energy and got dizzy when standing up too fast. It seemed as though my thinking was clouded and I had trouble concentrating. Among other symptoms, I began noticing strange burning and tingling sensations in my hands and feet. My body ached. My doctor performed several blood tests and sent me to a few specialists to rule out various diseases and conditions. The echocardiogram was perfect, my blood work was stellar (except for the anemia) and it was not Lupus or Lyme disease. In spite of my doctor’s suspicion it might be Multiple Sclerosis, an exam by a neurologist showed no problems and the MRI ruled out MS.
You see, I was in perfect health!
But….I was definitely NOT okay.
I’ll never forget the call from my doctor letting me know the results of the MRI. I was a bit disappointed. Disappointed! That’s pretty sad when you are so desperate for an answer to your health problems that you almost wish for a bad report. The doctor treated me with corticosteroids and several of my symptoms abated. He even remarked, “well, you don’t have MS but it’s not a good sign you respond to the same treatment used to put MS patients into remission.” What did that mean?!
Over the years the peripheral neuropathy grew more and more painful. The burning and tingling sensations in my hands and feet started to creep up my arms and legs. My joints and muscles often ached and I was experiencing excruciating cramping in my leg muscles at night. But feeling as though doctors believed I was imagining my symptoms, I stopped trying to get answers from them. I kept my pain to myself.
In 2008 during another particularly stressful period I started getting pains in my chest. I knew it was not a heart condition, but a gastroenterologist performed an endoscopy and diagnosed me with Eosinophilic Esophagitis. The doctor explained it an allergic reaction where the body’s immune system attacks the esophagus. But WHAT is the allergen? When I asked this question, my doctor claimed complete ignorance. He simply handed me a prescription for a steroid spray to swallow when my symptoms flared up. I remember my extreme frustration in knowing we were only masking symptoms and the doctors seemed to have no real interest in finding the root of the problem. This is something I have found repeatedly to be the case. More recently, I was having trouble with insomnia. Rather than trying to fix the problem, my doctor’s solution was to prescribe Xanax. Once again we were masking symptoms, not dealing with the real problem.
My frustration finally led me to search earnestly on the internet for answers. In early 2011 I came across a reference to the Paleo Diet. It seemed very reminiscent of a Multiple Sclerosis diet I had investigated years earlier. In 2003 the idea of eating no grains, legumes or dairy seemed completely impossible. But in 2011 there were food websites dedicated to this way of eating! I am so grateful to blogs like Paleo Parents and others for showing how we can eat this way and not feel deprived.
After going on a 30-day paleo elimination diet my symptoms were much improved. It was a few months later that I finally convinced my doctor to perform a test for gluten intolerance. The results came in and he confirmed I have Celiac Disease. The funny thing is he announced this to me as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. In retrospect it IS obvious. Even though most of my symptoms were not gastrointestinal in nature, they were still classic celiac symptoms. But in spite of my efforts to get answers, not one of my many doctors suggested it could have anything to do with my diet. NOT ONE. I had to be the one to find answers, implement changes and insist on a test!
The Mind-Body Connection
You may have noticed in my story the references to stress and how my symptoms flared when experiencing it. Almost two years ago I made major changes in my life to remove some stress, get healthy and spend more time with my children. In spite of my lower stress life, my fibromyalgia symptoms still flare up from time to time. This is usually the result of acute stress and/or some sort of gluten contamination. I have learned to be very cautious when it comes to what I eat. But I have also learned to manage stress much more successfully. Yoga, prayer and meditation have helped tremendously. I recently gave a presentation to a group of women on the 10 Healthy Habits for the Well-Rounded Person. There was an extremely positive response which leads me to believe many of us, particularly women, have a strong need to learn to deal with our stress and to better care for our bodies.
So I encourage you all to take charge of your health. Listen to your doctors but trust your instincts and take the initiative to find answers. No one cares about your health as much as you do. And never underestimate the damage stress can do to your body. Find a few minutes every day to sit quietly, breathe deeply and clear your mind. Nature and other forms of beauty can be extremely healing. The German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said:
“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
Take time to listen to a beautiful piece of music, read a brilliant poem, or just stop and smell the roses. It really does make a difference in your physical, mental and emotional health. Sometimes a pause in the day to spend quality time with loved-ones can improve mental and emotional health. Maybe what you need is an afternoon tea time!
These days I have more time to spend with my two young boys. Afternoon tea has become our tradition as a way to de-stress after the school day and enjoy each other’s company. We try to make a point of sitting down together for a snack and a drink most days. Sometimes we have fancy teas but usually it is a simple healthful snack, drink and a conversation. The boys seem to love this time and I feel as though we are not only making memories but they are learning that healthy snacks and treats are tasty and fun.
Paleo Shortbread Tea Bag Cookies
Our latest fancy tea time treat is Paleo Shortbread Tea Bag Cookies. These cookies are made with coconut flour because, in addition to the desire to remain grain free, my oldest son is allergic to nuts which means we usually steer clear of nut flours. The use of coconut flour and arrowroot makes these cookies not only grain and gluten-free but also nut free. They are sweetened with maple syrup and a small amount of sugar in the dark chocolate coating.
Paleo Spirit Living
These days my health is much improved thanks in large part to eating a nutrient dense paleo diet and managing stress. I take no medications anymore, have tons of energy and am rarely sick. In fact, I even ran a 5K this past weekend! But I made a point to enjoy the flowers and the birds chirping along the route too.
Do you follow the Paleo way of eating? If so, how has it helped you?
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