A “Paleo Spirit”: My Personal Health Journey

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:

What is Paleo Spirit?

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!

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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17 thoughts on “A “Paleo Spirit”: My Personal Health Journey

  1. Wow, your story could be my story–”perfect” health with a side of stress, peripheral neuropathy, dizziness, chest pains, and a whole host of other pains. (we never actually tied the chest pains to anything. After a bunch of cardiac tests it was determined to be nothing.)

    My symptoms came on dramatically during a stressful period as well, although looking back the problems had actually started years before. I just wasn’t paying attention to what my body was saying. It took a whole year to get back to a state that could remotely be called “health”. Started by removing gluten, and progressively more food items, until there wasn’t enough protein and calories left in my vegetarian diet and I had no choice but to start eating meat.

    At the point that I added meat, my diet matched up with paleo, and the foods I ate finally stopped causing me problems and I could heal. Every single pain went away and even the stress. I still do the yoga and meditation occasionally, though it’s not necessary to do it every day like it was before. And I have the energy to go running again and do all the things I used to do before.

    So yes, paleo has definitely helped me!

    • Wow, Laura, thanks for sharing your story. That’s a wonderful transformation back to health. No wonder many of us are dedicated to eating this way. It truly is about getting and staying healthy and having the energy to live life. I’m curious if your doctor(s) helped you find your way out of your ill health or if you had to figure it out on your own. I was sort of amazed at how much better I felt when I started doing yoga. Like you, it is not something I feel I HAVE to do everyday now but for a time it was critical to healing. Sounds like you would probably agree the other benefit of this experience is learning to pay more attention to what our bodies are trying to tell us. That’s the trouble with masking symptoms – they’re there for a reason!
      Best to you,
      Lea

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Lea. Like Laura said…it could have been my story too.

    I’ve struggled with health issues since high school (and maybe before). I’ve been tired my WHOLE life. I’ve always had aches and pains that I could not explain, crazy bloating that made me look like I was 5-6 months pregnant, anxiety and a strong sense of spiralling out of control, depression, and worst of all – IBS so bad that I was left with severe cramping and diarrhea and then throwing up…after many meals. I had a barium enema and a colonoscopy – my intestines were beautiful. I was told I just had a sensitive gut and was then prescribed a heavy duty medication to take whenever my symptoms started. When I went to get the prescription filled…the pharmacist expressed concern at the strength of the medication…commenting on how it is usually used for people who are REALLY sick…like with cancer. I walked away and never looked back. I’ve never been a pill taker anyway, but to prescribe something like that to someone whose body is healthy…just to deal with symptoms. Wow. I lost a lot of faith in western medicine that day. And like you, I’ve had to self diagnosis myself along the way because the doctors just don’t listen. Sigh. I had also had a complete blood work up done and the only things off were my B12 and iron (which always have been). Still I felt like I was dying. I remember turning to my husband on more than one occasion and crying because I didn’t think I’d be around to watch our little boy grow up.

    I discovered this way of eating (we eat primal blueprint) last summer and WOW…what a difference. I had flirted with aspects of the diet before this when doing Candida cleanses and whatnot and knew how much better I felt on them…grains was the next big step. So here we are, 10 months later, and I haven’t had one IBS attack since going primal. My energy wasn’t returning, and I soon realized (with the help of my naturopath) that my thyroid is really out of whack. So, we are now addressing that and I feel the energy returning slowly. I’ve been moving my body and gaining strength and energy from that as well. It’s such a different experience for me to WANT to get up in the morning and hang out with my sweet boy (who is almost 6) instead of wanting to spend the day in bed.

    Ah..the healing that can come with a nutritionally dense diet that is void of all that foods that cause inflammation and disease. Just re-reading Laura’s post and feel the desire to add that I too was vegetarian…for 25 years. Never felt worse in my live. :) And…I too came to yoga as a spiritual path and it has helped me immensely. So much so that I became a yoga teacher 9 years ago. :)

    Thank you again for sharing your story. It feels so good to know that I’m not alone in this world. I am so thankful for a community of like-minded people that continues to support and encourage others. Ah…life is good. xo

    Namaste,
    Debbie

  3. For the past three years I’ve had increasing inflammatory pain. This past winter it had gotten so bad I was desperate for a solution that didn’t involve taking painkillers for the rest of my life. I went to doctors and my tests always came back in the good to excellent ranges… all they could come up with was “lose weight, go on a diet.” No thanks — I’ve screwed up my body with dieting enough, no more. Finally after doing some reading (yay internet!) I decided to try an elimination diet. Turns out it was the wheat (and to a lesser extent grains in general) and dairy. I believe it’s primarily gluten and casein that I have trouble with. It’s certainly an allergy because when I take an antihistamine the symptoms dissipate. And it wasn’t more than a few days on my no-grain no-dairy no-sugar diet that the pain was GONE. It felt miraculous, I had been suffering so long. And oh, am I bitter about all the money I gave those doctors for absolutely no help and bad advice.

  4. I, too, feel you rewrote my life in your post. I have been dealing with stress my entire life. Much of which I put on myself. I graduated 5th in my high school class, went on to college to become an engineer, worked at that for 3 1/2 years before having my first child, then second, then third, then fourth! Decided to stay home with them all and am now homeschooling them. Needless to say, a daily dose of stress is expected but not desired! I have seen my family practitioner and midwives about my issues several times, with no help. Fatigue (not just feeling tired…overall lethargy with no desire to get out of bed even!), moodiness, “brain fog”, malaise, etc. Well, of course, I must be depressed. I took anti-depressants for several months, with upping doses and adding supplemental anti-depressants. I felt like a chemistry experiment was going on in my body and head! Over this time, I found out about adrenal fatigue and took myself off the anti-depressants. Started feeling better…and felt even better when I ate healthy. Then the unthinkable happened…I lost my oldest brother to a heart attack when he was only 49. This totally threw me for a loop. My diet suffered, my adrenals suffered, my spirit suffered, all of me suffered. Also, we had figured out one of our DC had learning issues and we went through several iterations to figure out what was wrong. Now, a year after all of this, our daughter is doing much better and we found Paleo through researching diets for her. Now, most days, I feel a gazillion times better! Brain fog is at a minimum, lethargy is less, moodiness is better. I still have a ways to go. I have not totally cleansed us of natural sugars…and when I have more fruit, maple syrup, dates and honey, oh boy, do I feel it! Today is one of those days. ;)

    Thanks for your site…I love that you love the Lord and are using a diet that helps you love you.

  5. Pingback: Easy Paleo Recipe: Sausage and Kale Sauté

  6. Pingback: What is the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol?

  7. Thank you SO much for your website and for sharing your story! I have tears in my eyes as I read because for the first time I am reading about someone else whose story sounds like mine. Like some of the above posts our stories are so very similar. I have always had issues with my stomach and different drs have said different things. I seem to always be the first one sick. About two years ago I started getting severe chest pain and a tightness in my throat that felt as if a HUGE pill just wouldn’t go down. Of course I was just looked at as if I was going crazy. Nobody seemed to know how to help. A year ago a GI dr finally did an upper endoscopy and stretched my throat. He then had a biopsy confirmation of Eosinophilic Esophagitis but had no clue how to fix it or make it go away. I tried the allergy testing and sprays etc and still my symptoms would come and go. More recently I had a major “flare” of pain and also issues with my hands almost acting like RA. This led me to find answers myself. I have been on an anti inflammatory diet for about a month and am slowly figuring out I may as well just be paleo. Nightshades seem to make my throat instantly feel tight and well I stupidly ate a bagel about a week ago and had my first vision blurring migraine. I am very interested to keep reading about your journey. Thanks again for sharing and making me less ALONE!!!!

    • Jessica,
      Thanks for writing. I’m really glad you found my site so you don’t feel so alone. It is a very lonely thing when no one understands or can help you when you are in need. It sounds like you have the same oral allergy I have with some nightshades. You might look into the Autoimmune Protocol I wrote about recently. That protocol eliminates nightshades and some other inflammatory foods. I wish you the best on your journey to better health. There will be ups and downs. Just today I got “glutened” by something I ate in the cafeteria at my office which has now given me some pretty bad symptoms. But all-in-all paleo eating has made a huge difference and made me feel like there is hope for better health for my life.
      Best, Lea

      • Thank you for replying! I did read your auto immune protocol and am definitely going to go with that for a while. Like you said definitely ups and downs but after having my throat stretched and torn twice I am determined for that not to be my ” solution”. :). Thanks again!!!

  8. Wow ! I to have undiagnosed ms type symptoms that the doctors cant figure out they are currently calling mine Tia stokes mostly but say that if it was tia strokes they would show up on the MRI, same if it was ms, sigh they tried a couple other diagnoses but again they could find nothing on the test, 1 -2 times a year for the last 3 years I go into spell were I walk like I’m drunk, have slurred speech and confusion,on some spells on have some numbness/tingling (feels like legs/arms are asleep) and on the very first one I had drooping on one side of my face but that only happened once. I went from walking/bike riding 5 + miles 3 -5 times a week on the day of my first spell to only being able to walk a block or two, three days later when I came out of the spell.With a lot of effort I’m back to walking (no bike riding) 3 miles a couple times a month now, I spend most my time in bed online as I feel best lying down, its like I’m too heavy for my body to comfortably stay up right now. my balance is off and stairs and uneven terrain is hard for me now, my balance is all the way gone in the spells and I stumble around ping ponging off things for support like I’m drunk in a typical ms walk luckily they usually only last three days, then my balance comes back were I can walk fairly normal only got to be extra careful on uneven ground and stairs (doctors want me to use a walker because of this but I refuse)I’ve been looking at the paleo diet for about a year now and I’m debating on going paleo to see if it will help………………

  9. It was really nice to run into this site while searching for a barbacoa recipe. I am eating consistently with a Paleo-diet. Out of necessity, I joined a twelve step program, I was trying to eat healthy foods for years but I was eating way to much healthy foods. I slowly went up to 264 lbs over the course of 20 years. I’m now 128-132 lbs again and have stayed stable every since I got there (8 months). I do not eat processed food and I don’t make elaborate recipes to replicate foods that I can’t have (flour or sugar). I live with what God has given me easy access to: fruits, vegetables, meats and diary. I’m posting this in case someone is reading this and trying to do a paleo diet and finds they cannot resist the temptation of flour or sugar, or that when they substitute with better ingredients, they cannot eat in moderation. That was my story and I am okay with not being able to do this on my own. I have a twelve step program and I, like other addicts of other addictions, I need the support of a sponsor. I think the paleo diet, which is so similar to what I eat is a wonderful solution. but if someone is trying and has not been able to do it, please consider an organization like Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. It is saving my life. Now, my life is completely different, I have peace and a close relationship with God that I didn’t experience when I went to food with all my anxieties and problems. I am also physically active and enjoy exercise. Good bless you!

    • My wife had knee pain. Although mostly paleo in her eating habits, it wasn’t until she gave un Yogurt, (she WAS a chobani lover) that her knee pain suddenly,(within a week) , went away. Imagine that !! Give up the dairy. It’s a gut buster.

  10. The picture above shows that you do not get out in the sun. The sun is good for so many things, as a Paleo person, you probably understand. Vitamin D3 comes from the sun. Just remember to wear a hat, to protect the face skin.

    • Love reading your story. Great to here people getting well through their own research not by doctors who although I’m certain want to help but seem to ignore the most basic, that being nutrition! I was at my drs. recently and he said my cholesterol was “unbelievably” low and I had the blood pressure of an athlete (I’m 55 male) and certainly not an athlete! He doesn’t understand why, I simply say the way I eat. Still, oblivious!
      You look absolutely spectacular except for that ring on your finger(joking)! LOL.

      Like prof. Watson I would definitely suggest some sun!! Good for you on so many level, in moderation of course.

      Be well,

      j

  11. Pingback: What is the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol?

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