To Paleo or Not to Paleo?

What happens when the diet everyone says will work for you . . . doesn’t?


Over the last two years I have developed a careful relationship with food. I’ve had to give up gluten and dairy (originally in order to recover from constant respiratory infections). This means no processed foods for the most part. I also consume vastly less sugar. It’s quite a change from my carb-heavy (and weighty) days of yore. I lost 100 lbs and five dress sizes. There have been other profound changes. If you’d like to know more, please ask in comments.

Foods still included in my diet that were not Paleo were white potatoes, soy, popcorn, beans, lentils and rice. I did eat GF breads on occasion, but am just as happy without them.

My partner and I decided to undertake a Paleo challenge to improve overall body composition. I expected this shift to be easy. Food-wise, it was. Unfortunately it completely upset the happy balance I had achieved with my digestive system. I have been extremely physically uncomfortable with highly unpleasant gut pain since undertaking Paleo. You might argue that I’m doing it wrong-too much fat, not enough fat, too much fiber, not enough fiber–but the truth is I put a lot of time and research into our meal plans including snacks. I have read multiple Paleo food and lifestyle books and blogs. I was prepared for this, and shifts one way or another week over week made no positive impact.

So, I began to reintroduce the foods I cut out. It took about three days for my body to turn around. I’m still struggling. If I weren’t 100% sure it isn’t the case, I would think I’ve been eating gluten. Gluten causes extreme brain fog for me. I haven’t had any of that. I just hurt and feel sick to my stomach all the time.

And this doesn’t even touch trying to budget for a family of five to eat within a Paleo plan.

Here’s the thing, friends (esp GF friends): Paleo can be a much better way to eat for most of you. It cuts out processed food and sugars. It does not mean eating only meat. You should be eating more vegetation than meats, and I have heard of Paleo vegetarians who stick with nuts and seeds, fruits and veggies (which makes more sense than the meat-at- every-meal version I see many friends practicing–after all, meat was a sometimes good , not a staple in the Paleolithic era). I want to be clear this is not a vilification of the Paleo diet. I will still post Paleo recipes just as I share GF or dairy-filled recipes. However , if you have already achieved gut health through an elimination diet, don’t mess with your food choices. We all have different eating needs. There is no one “right” plan for everyone. If you are concerned about weight loss, add exercise–especially weight-bearing exercise.

And this post doesn’t even touch the prohibitive task of budgeting for a family of five. If you thought gluten-free eating hiked up your bill. . .

For me, I suspect walnuts were a major player in my gastric distress, but I can’t be sure. Everything went to heck within a week of Paleo eating, and I hadn’t introduced walnuts at that time. After their introduction, though, I experienced a new kind of intestinal pain.

Since recovery isn’t new to me, I’m comfortably on the road. I’m sad to say goodbye to Paleo in a way–for a long time I saw it as the only possible answer. Yes, that was short-sighted and ego-centric, but it’s also a very American way of thinking. Fortunately, pre-Paleo, my goal of healthy eating was already met. I’m happy to get back to it.

What are your experiences with #Paleo eating? What other elimination diets have you tried? Why did you try them? What was the outcome?

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

0 Discussion to this post

  1. heatherakou says:

    My intestines went insane after three pregnancies in five years and loads of additional stress. I’ve healed pretty well on a GF diet and eat much healthier overall, but you know what else I had to eliminate? Bananas. Weird. (I’m pretty sure it’s due to the wicked latex allergy I’ve developed… bananas are biological relatives). As you so eleganty explain, there is *no* single diet that will work for everyone… no matter how healthy it appears to be. Kudos to you for figuring out your own specific needs!

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