Written by: Tiffany Francis
“Look Doctor, I know I shouldn’t quit taking medications without consulting you, but it’s been kind of difficult to remember to take my Rheumatoid Arthritis meds, when I’m no longer having any Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms…”
Prior to beginning the Paleo lifestyle in November 2011, I hadn’t had a single pain-free day in over 2 years. I had only been diagnosed about 18 months earlier because before that, I spent a good 6 months just scratching my head and wondering why, at 26 years old, I was limping every morning when I got out of bed, had frequent TMJ (lockjaw) and couldn’t even operate a computer mouse most days without cringing in pain.
Even after beginning treatment, I saw little improvement. I was taking “black label warning” drugs that are known to cause cirrhosis of the liver as well as several other complications (including death…) with very little reduction in pain, but a notable increase in depression, lethargy, and weight. Within only a few months I had gotten up to 170 pounds and over 50% body fat on my 5’2” frame. Not that I was in ideal physical shape to begin with, but this was a weight that I had been at before and had sworn I would never get back to.
At the time, I was living with a friend, a yoga instructor and natural-birth advocate, who had begun experimenting with the Paleo Diet. She kept sending me articles she’d run across about how gluten-sensitivity could cause autoimmune diseases such as RA and lupus. (Did I mention that my lab results technically showed positive for systemic lupus too? But since I didn’t display classic outward symptoms, at least not yet, my Rheumatologist only officially diagnosed the RA.) My roommate also read a quote or two from this book she had been obsessing over. You guessed it… The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. She read to me about the author’s belief that most people who had gallbladder removal were almost assuredly, undiagnosed-celiac. So I guess it’s also worth mentioning that in 2008, at only 24 years old, I had to undergo a cholecystectomy, not due to gall stones, but months of illness due to “chronic inflammation” of the gallbladder.
Yet, despite the fact that I obviously fit the profile of the people Robb Wolf described, who were being made very sick by the Standard American Diet, I must confess, I received my roommate’s helpful tips and advice with a bit of annoyance. I mean really…who gives up ALL grains? And cheeeeese? Could life even be worth living without cupcakes and Gruyere? I had no interest. I had already tried every other “fad” diet out there from Weight Watchers to Vegan with little success, and no sustainable weight loss, and I really didn’t believe that this one would turn out any differently. I would just have to “learn to have a little willpower” and subsist on portion controlled frozen dinners once again.
Health-wise, I had already resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t handle the pain of wearing sexy high heels or deal with the impact from intense exercise. And I recognized that I would one day very soon, be installing special lever-handles throughout my house to accommodate my stiffening hands’ inability to grip and turn standard door knobs. Those were just the genetic cards that I had been dealt and I had accepted them. At least I got an excuse to wear comfortable sneakers at work, despite how tacky they looked with my business-casual attire, right?
But thank God… vanity made me give the Paleo lifestyle a second look. I was desperate to lose some weight after a doctor from the hospital where I work asked me, without flinching, if I was pregnant. I most definitely wasn’t… So it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Any person who is even mildly aware of social behavior knows that you NEVER ask a woman if she’s pregnant unless you already KNOW the answer is yes. Yet a highly educated medical professional was asking me if my ever-growing stomach pooch was a baby-bump, so I knew I needed to do something about my weight. My roommate’s already-slender yogi build hadn’t sold me on Paleo’s claims of helping me shed pounds, but when I ran into another friend of ours, a busy mother of two young children, I was stunned by the transformation I saw in her. “What did you DO?” I asked, hoping for some miraculous inspiration for myself. When she said, “I’ve just been eating Paleo,” my jaw dropped… And I downloaded Robb’s book on my iPad that afternoon.
So Robb, after all of the well-supported scientific evidence and research you put into the book, it turns out that all you really needed to do to get me on board was put “Look Better Naked” in a bold font on the cover and I would have given it a chance. But in the end, I did read the book—all of it. My mind was blown… and my life was changed.
After only 3 days of eating delicious grilled salmon, spinach salads, tender sirloin steak, crisp asparagus, and BACON, my stomach deflated very noticeably. Within about 6 weeks, I had dropped from a size 14 to a size 8—even though I never felt deprived or hungry, which is something that years of yo-yo dieting on standard low-fat/high-carb plans had convinced me was an integral and unavoidable part of weight loss.
It was during this time that I also started forgetting to take my RA meds. Without that throbbing pain to keep the pill-popping on my list of priorities, it just became inconsistent until I noticed weeks had gone by since I’d last taken them, yet symptoms hadn’t resurfaced.
And they didn’t resurface… until I decided to take a vacation from Paleo while my boyfriend was visiting from overseas. Within hours after eating my first fast-food sandwich in 2 months, my hands stiffened back up. It took mere minutes after I began eating that meal for my stomach to begin cramping and bloating up like someone had pulled the cord on an inflatable raft inside my stomach. I was miserable, and utterly shocked by the way my body was reacting to this food that I was essentially raised on and had never suspected, my entire life.
Luckily though, I know better now. I went back to Paleo eating after that, and now I don’t think I could ever look back. In less than 6 months, I am down by about 20 pounds and have reduced my body fat by nearly 10%.I still have a long way to go, but after previously believing I would never be able to handle a “real workout” again, I’ve been able to begin a high-intensity-interval-training program, which is giving me some amazing results in muscle definition and strength gains after just 1 month.
The dramatic differences I could see in myself were astounding and undeniable, yet I was still pretty nervous when I went in for the standing 4-month checkup with my Rheumatologist to tell him that I had taken myself off of both the Methotrexate and NSAID therapy. I expected to get a lecture about how dangerous it is to discontinue treatments without physician supervision, and like so many stories I had heard, I expected him to dismiss my results with the Paleo Diet as either coincidence or placebo effect. To my surprise however, he listened intently as I told him about how great I’ve been feeling and about the significant changes I had made.
On his own, having never read up on the Paleo lifestyle, he began reasoning how, of any of the popular “diets” on the market, this one that I described made the most common sense to him. He began talking about how, what we consider “natural” foods today, like whole grains, aren’t necessarily that “natural” as part of the human diet since they are relatively new to us on an evolutionary timeline. He also spoke of how, in recent years, the medical community has been discovering more and more people with a clear gluten intolerance, despite the fact that they don’t test positive for Celiac, and so on and so on… “Yep, I already know all this, “ I thought as I smiled and nodded. Right there, during our consultation, he began downloading books on the Paleo lifestyle to his iPhone to research it further. Not only was I not getting the lecture I expected, but my Rheumatologist was excited and in his words, “inspired” by my transformation. Now, I can only hope that my experience will lead him to educate his other patients about this life changing option. This stuff really does save lives!