Eighth grade is a tumultuous time for most young girls, there are crushes, heartbreaks, drama, hormones, and a fights with parents. This is all very normal. For me, eighth grade was no different, with the exception of a few trips to the ER and a lot of doctors appointments.
I don’t remember exactly when it started now, but at some point during eighth grade I developed daily bouts of severe abdominal pain. Every afternoon, at various times, I would have a gripping painful sensation begin at my belly button and wrap around the middle of my abdomen and back. Each episode lasted about five minutes, drained every ounce of color out of my face, until I thought I would be sick, and then quickly subsided. These episodes were obviously startling at first, but eventually I got used to them. These episodes were coupled with episodes of prolonged localized lower abdominal pain that usually presented itself in an appendicitis-like manner. Every time they occurred I would go to the ER only to have them say it was not an appendicitis and send me home. Eventually, I was diagnosed with potential endometriosis, put on medicine, and declared “fixed”, the only problem was that the pain never went away.
Fast forward to eleventh grade. My daily stomach attacks have out stayed their welcome by a few years and I am ready for resolution. I opt to have an exploratory laparoscopy with the expectation that they would find the endometrial tissue I was supposed to have and remove it. However, as I groggily awoke from the general anesthesia I asked for my results only to hear my mom tell me quietly that they hadn’t found anything. I was devastated. Almost four years of pain and one abdominal surgery later and I was no better off. Dejected, I gave up.
About four years later, now about to graduate college, I took a job working full time at an emergency shelter for abused women and children. This was by far the most rewarding job I have ever had, however it was also certainly one of the most stressful. After a few months on the job I began noticing some new symptoms. In the interest of discretion, I will simply say, blood, lots of it, where it should not be. I am not a terribly alarmist person so I assumed it was a minor problem at first, tried to treat it with some over-the-counter remedies and gave it time. Things got worse, until eventually I remember sitting in my office with the door closed crying on the phone to the nurse at my gastroenterologist’s office saying “but you don’t understand, I can’t stop bleeding”. She got me in right away to see a nurse practitioner, who immediately got me scheduled for a colonoscopy. Talk about humiliation, nothing like being 21 years old, sitting in a waiting room at a hospital for a colonoscopy with the rest of the over 50 crowd! Nevertheless, I was still hopeful that the issue was minor and could be resolved during the procedure. Once again, when I awoke, I was told that I did not have what they had been looking for. This time, however, we had found the problem. I had ulcerative colitis. If you don’t know what that is, look it up, but in short it is inflammation of the colon.
I was sad that at 21 years old I had a chronic disease. I had always eaten a “healthy” diet, restricted my calories, exercised, and taken vitamins. Why was this happening to me? Not able to tolerate a long pity party, however, I began trying everything I could to get better. I began the medicines prescribed by the doctor and started researching the impact of food. My sister, who also struggled with digestive issues had gone gluten free about a year before so I decided to follow suit. This helped a good bit. I was no longer bloated, I didn’t get heartburn anymore, and my abdominal pain reduced, but I still had pain, and most of all I still felt like my body was fighting against itself. Things weren’t working the way they should.
I remained gluten free for about year before learning about the paleo diet. I heard about it from a girl I was working with, who had done it to lose weight. I had just gotten engaged at this point so like all brides-to-be I was anxious to look my best. I started researching the diet and quickly discovered that it was used by countless numbers of people, not just to lose weight, but to reduce the symptoms of autoimmune disorders like ulcerative colitis.
I was hooked. I started the diet in January of 2012 and have never looked back. I didn’t loose many pounds, but my whole body changed. I was toned, I had energy, I was never bloated, I was satisfied by the food I was eating, I wasn’t stressed about calories, my abdominal pain and bleeding were gone, and I just felt great! For the first time in my life, I was happy with my body when I saw it in the mirror and I felt like my body was supporting me in life not challenging me at every turn. Most amazingly, these feelings were not in any way related to the number on the scale. I ate as much food as I needed to be happy and full and never worried about what the scale would say the next day.
Eventually, I was able to get off of allergy medicines and asthma medicines I was put on as a child, with no recurring symptoms, my ulcerative colitis medications were reduced and I went into remission. After a lifetime of stomach problems, weight problems, digestive issues and over 8 years of chronic pain, I was healthy.
Sadly, the paleo diet did not make me the super-human I still hope to become. After over a year of being in remission I developed a flare up about a week ago with no apparent cause other than the fact that I have and always will have a chronic disease. Amazingly though, despite the flare up I still feel great. My weight has remained steady, I have had minimal pain, and didn’t end up in the hospital. Ask anyone who has experienced ulcerative colitis and they will tell you that each of those accomplishments are huge wins in the presence of a flare up.
I am not saying that this diet will turn you into a super human machine, but I have heard from people who have overcome issues with allergies, asthma, weight gain, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, diabetes, crone’s disease, arthritis, and many other health concerns through the paleo diet, and many more people simply use it to eat well and feel great. It has been a topsy turvey journey for me from eighth grade to the strong healthy person I am today and I owe a lot of that to the revelation that when I stop forcing my body to digest food that it is not equipped to digest my body will stop fighting me and start taking care of me.
What are your experiences with the paleo diet? Has it helped you with any lingering issues? Do you plan to try it?