As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to go gluten free when I was 20. The results were instant and pretty substantial. The anemia I had struggled with for years was gone within two weeks, even after stopping iron supplementation. I had way more energy and felt like I was bouncing off the walls. A lot of my digestive issues went away and I generally felt healthier. I was still vegan though, and relied heavily on oats, legumes, and popcorn. I ate almost no fat, and the fat I did eat came almost exclusively from sunflower seed butter and 2-3 brazil nuts per day. I also spent hours on the elliptical or running each week.
I studied a lot and did well in school, and I had a lot less anxiety and far fewer depressive symptoms than I had in the past. I studied abroad and made amazing friends throughout the rest of my college career. Overall I was pretty happy, but I still wasn’t all that healthy. I continued to have disordered eating patterns, stayed very thin, had a period 0-3 times per year, and was still unhappy with the amount of acne on my face and body. Convinced that veganism was the best route and that I just needed to try harder, I stuck with it throughout the rest of college and partway into graduate school.
For christmas during my first year of grad school, my step brother gave me a book that sparked my path toward an ancestral/paleo type lifestyle and drastically improved health. The book was the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferris. In it, he suggests a ‘slow-carb’ diet which is basically paleo+legumes and without fruit most of the time. I stayed vegetarian, but cut out all grains and fruit (except for the one cheat day per week that is allowed on the 4HB diet). I eventually discovered that I have celiac disease, so I always remained 100% gluten free. It was fun, and I looooved having that cheat day where I could eat ANYTHING I could possibly dream of. But I still wasn’t all that healthy. It might have been the cheat day, or the diet high in legumes and devoid of any animal products (aside from the dairy in Snickers bars…oops). But something still wasn’t working.
Soon after I read the 4HB my brother told me about Mark’s Daily Apple. I checked out the site and was immediately hooked on the premise of primal eating. It was logical, intriguing, and totally new to me. I decided almost overnight to abandon my vegan ways and start eating meat. It took me a while to give up my cheat days. I freaking loved those things. In retrospect it’s almost disturbing to me how excited I got for my cheat day each week.
But in the end, I couldn’t ignore the fact that stuffing myself to the point of sickness with sugar, grains, and industrial seed oils one day every week was doing me a major disservice. My final plunge into paleo came when I stopped taking birth control pills. It took about a year for my body to re-calibrate, but since then I have had a completely regular cycle with only a few hiccups that were probably caused by stress.
Paleo and the Autoimmune Protocol
I made the switch from primal to paleo about two years ago, which for me meant eliminating dairy from my diet. I have stuck to a pretty straight paleo diet since. It’s mostly out of necessity, and I experiment quite a bit within the paleo framework. My face cleared up immensely when I started to follow a strict paleo diet. I still had acne on my back though, something that I have recently learned is often associated with autoimmunity.
Acne seems to be a bit of a canary in the coal mine with regard to autoimmunity and gut dysbiosis. I see it as an indicator that something is awry and a good way to assess the effects of dietary changes. I finally got my digestion (mostly) in order, but the acne persisted. It’s the only lingering issue I have and is something that I really want to figure out. For vanity reasons, yes, but also because as long as I have acne I feel as though by body is not functioning optimally. Enter ongoing self-experimentation.
I tried a low-FODMAP diet following an unpleasant tryst with a mango. Nothing really changed and I missed garlic far too much. Next was a relatively traumatic experience with the GAPS intro diet, which coincided with a bout of alopecia areata. Because I also have celiac disease and some other minor autoimmune skin issues, autoimmunity is something that is always in the back of my mind. I am currently in the midst of an experiment with the Autoimmune protocol. I read about the autoimmune protocol on Sarah Ballantyne’s website. Her site is amazing and has a TON of information, with in-depth and easy to understand scientific explanations behind autoimmunity and the effects of food. I bought her book and devoured it. By the time I finished the book I was convinced that following a strict autoimmune protocol for a period of time was my best option. I started a couple of months ago and have been very strict aside from few accidental exposures and poorly timed attempts at food reintroduction.
So far the protocol is going really well. This version of the paleo diet is the first to completely clear up my digestion. My skin has also improved immensely. Recent bouts of stress have hurt my skin progress a bit, but the skin on my back still looks better than it has in a while. We’ll see where this process takes me, but I feel like I’m constantly getting closer to the healthiest version of myself and hopefully (fingers crossed) I will be able to re-introduce chocolate to my diet someday.