How The Paleo Approach Saved My Health (after years of low-carb paleo)

This post is going to be epic, so instead of rehashing my entire health history I’m going to give you the story as it’s been written before (please click the links to older posts for more information):

  1. In 2010, at 336 lbs, I went low-carb, low-fat paleo and intermittent fasted.
  2. I lost 138lbs by my 30th birthday, September 2011. Thrilled with the weight loss, I ignored digestive distress, caused from a lack of a gall-bladder, and signs of concern like brittle nails and hair falling out.
  3. In February 2012 I began to have a bit of a health crisis (now realized to be an autoimmune flare), encountering digestive distress, adrenal fatigue, depression and a 25lb weight gain as my 3rd child weaned and our 1st cookbook launched.
  4. Throughout 2012 I tried a myriad of techniques to resolve my health, ultimately ending with success after applying The Paleo Approach techniques: stress management, micro-nutrient sufficiency through nutrient-dense foods, sleep, sunlight, less intermittent fasting and moderate body movements (light exercise).
  5. In January 2013 I finally felt better enough to begin more strenuous exercise, and spent a few months tailoring my new plan to accommodate for the additional stress on my body.
  6. In July 2013 I considered myself “healed” and began training!

 ♥ ♥ ♥

I started following The Paleo Approach almost a year ago

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While you all have waited patiently for years as Dr. Sarah Ballantyne wrote The Paleo Approach, I was lucky enough to begin following her protocol well before it was available to the public (today – go buy it!). I started my journey on healing when Practical Paleo first came out and I started with the methodologies Diane put forth for autoimmune conditions (autoimmune protocol: AIP). It’s one of the things that drew me to Sarah and asked her to co-host The Paleo View with me – we were “the autoimmune paleo mommy bloggers” (of course there’s much more to us though!).

Problem was, after following the AIP for nearly 3 months I wasn’t seeing healing. Some of the super negative symptoms were alleviated, like adrenal fatigue, clumps of hair falling out and terrible acne, but when I reintroduced foods I would get flares again. I distinctly remember it being SO. HARD. Like, temper tantrums in the car hard because everything, EVERYTHING I was used to eating had eggs or nightshades and I was overwhelmed at the idea of living the rest of my life that way. All of which contributed to my ongoing struggles with depression – the obsession with food was beginning to overwhelm me, it was starting to cause disordered eating again, as I looked for ways to “get around” the AIP.

I was so frustrated, I began talking with Sarah about what her thoughts and recommendations were. It was at this time that Sarah was hundreds of thousands of words deep into writing The Paleo Approach (no, seriously, it’s a tome). There were a few things she shared with me about what she found in the scientific literature about recommendations she was going to make, versus things I’d read in Practical Paleo and other resources.

What Did I Do?

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And so it began, in 2013 I started following The Paleo Approach. Mostly this meant that I focused more on what to add to my diet instead of what to remove from it. Sarah and I talked every week on The Paleo View and nearly each episode each one of us would get more and more geeked out on nutrient-density, our new favorite word. We began exploring healing foods; Matt and I became so inspired that we wrote the nose-to-tail cookbook, Beyond Bacon – almost every recipe of which includes bone stock and/or lard (high in Vitamin D and easy for me to digest).

I’d been following a low-fat, low-carb version of paleo for years. Turns out, it made me sick. It affected my adrenals, thyroid function, and ability for my body to heal itself. I was nutrient-poor, despite eating what I thought was the best diet possible. Perhaps for some people eating that way is healthy for them, but for me as a busy woman with no gallbladder and previous metabolic syndrome, it ended up as a disaster long-term. I firmly believe that being so low carb for so long is the reason my health tanked in 2012. It was the reason I wasn’t fully digesting my meals, which ultimately led to malabsorption of nutrients, which led to many of the health issues I had. Turns out, a high protein diet (especially when the protein is mostly poultry) wasn’t doing what I thought it was for my health. I got over my fear of fat and incorporated more nutrient-dense healing fats, specifically lard, coconut oil and ghee/butter (I was shocked how well I tolerated ghee and butter after a lifetime of being dairy intolerant). I switched my proteins to a majority of grass-fed red meat and pastured pork, added seafood and incorporated the true superfoods: organ meat and bone broth.

Friends, I’ve become “the bone broth lady” (seriously honored people told me they call me that)! Turns out, my mom finally discovered the actual autoimmune condition we have (in addition to Celiac) and it’s one that causes our gut lining to not be able to protect itself. This is why, and Sarah’s working on a full scientific explanation for a future podcast episode, incredibly healing foods like broth and coconut make me feel so great, while irritating foods like gluten, tomatoes and egg whites make me immediately ill. I didn’t know this then, all I knew was that it was incredibly important to nourish and heal my body as I followed The Paleo Approach and broth, organ meats and seafood in particular – combined with a heavy dose of veggies – kept me feeling my best. In fact, my daily soup for breakfast – which is how I now get over not having eggs as an option – has taken the social media world by storm with #bonebrothheals

One of the things I learned from Sarah is the importance of vegetables. I’ve popularized #morevegetablesthanavegetarian in social media – but it was Sarah’s focus on the importance of vegetables – specifically a variety of colorful ones – that really made me focus on them. For a while, I’d actually reduced the types of vegetables I was eating because I wanted to stay away from foods high in insoluble fiber – which I personally let affect the quantity of veggies I was eating. When Sarah told me she’d had research that greens rich in insoluble fiber, even cruciferous ones, showed to be positive healing foods from her research it was a big change in how I approached nourishing myself. As I started adding in much more vegetables, especially leafy greens, it was amazing how much it affected my digestion and how I felt.

From the prior AIP protocol I was already consuming fermented foods rich in probiotics, which is another big important factor in helping to heal the gut through food.

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I learned to love myself and let things go. I know… it’s hokey. And intangible. And something I can’t possibly define for you to replicate… although I’ve tried to articulate it a zillion times on The Paleo View. Stress Management was defined and something I began when I first started Practical Paleo‘s AIP. But it’s not something one can fix overnight, especially when that person is an overwhelmingly busy control freak with the inability to turn off that Type A personality at the drop of a hat. Over time, and through Sarah’s repeated reminders of the scientific backing behind stress being a leading causes of health deterioration, I learned how to slay the stress monster.

First, I gave myself permission to do something(s) for me. Without guilt or remorse. It was really hard in the beginning to know I was missing out on time I could (or as I thought, should) be doing: helping with dinner, spending time with the boys, staying later at the office, etc. But then I realized should is a mean, judgmental, hateful word that isn’t allowed in our home… so why would I allow me to use it on myself? I deserved time for me, to enjoy the life I’m living. I deserve to take care of the only body I’ll have to carry me through this life. My children deserve a role model to show them that sometimes it’s OK to stop and put the gas mask on yourself before helping others – I learned to take care of myself first before putting others ahead of me. This, was huge.

I learned to breathe. There was a point at which my stress levels had caused an eye twitch I couldn’t get rid of for months. And I had begun grinding my teeth and experiencing frequent headaches from it. I even had about a 6 week period of time where I was experiencing frequent anxiety attacks in crossfit, unable to breathe when something ended up being harder than I anticipated. It made me want to quit, and I’ve never been a quitter. It was at this time Sarah talked to me about relaxation techniques she highly encouraged. It was so bizarre for this scientist to be telling me to do some hokey-pokey-crunchy-granola-meditation… but she was right.  My body was overwhelmed and needed a break. So several times a day I intentionally stood up and walked around the office, finding someone to smile with and change my environment while activating happy hormones. During crossfit I learned to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth with deep, intentional breaths. Soon, the twitching and anxiety attacks just went away!

I learned to let things go. This was the hardest for me and is something I’m still actively working on. Although I think it’s easiest to explain in a road rage analogy, that one is pretty tired. Instead I’ll explain how I react when something frustrates me and I can feel my blood pressure start to rise: I talk out loud about what I can or cannot do. Whether I’m alone or with someone in the car, I tell myself “This really sucks that traffic is so backed up and I’m going to be late to this book signing, where people are waiting for me. *deep breath* Unfortunately, I cannot change this traffic and getting angry or irrational about it isn’t going to help. I’ll do my best and get there when I can. In the meantime, I’ll call the bookstore and let them know I might be running late.” It’s about acknowledgement, doing what you’re able the best you can, and then forgiveness. What a concept… all backed by science to help you be healthier!

Be positive! No, really. Of course not everything’s great. But almost everything has something positive about it. So I learned to frame things to myself positively and it helped me have an overall positive outlook and attitude. “This post I’m writing took longer than I expected, but I’m excited to have so much to share and believe people will find it helpful. I’ll make sure to sleep in or catch-up on sleep tomorrow to recover,” instead of “OMG it’s midnight and I promised myself I’d go to bed by 11:30pm each night – I’m breaking my promise and letting everyone down!”


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Sarah goes over LOTS more stuff in The Paleo Approach but these are the things that I personally applied to my own life.

The results?

I’ve resolved ALL of the autoimmune related health issues I experienced in 2011 and 2012.

Let me restate that, because I want to make sure it’s heard. I no longer have symptoms of autoimmune disease, adrenal fatigue, micro-nutrient deficiencies, skin breakouts or depression (at all). My body has not only recovered fully from the autoimmune flare, but I’ve actually been able to heal my body even further – now able to consume foods like high quality heavy cream and cheeses without distress at all!  And when accidentally exposed to gluten or intentionally eat things I know my body has a difficult time with (like nightshades or grains) I find each and every time my body responds better than the time before. I have successfully reintroduced nuts, seeds, chocolate, egg yolks and seed spices (all in moderation) but have found that egg whites and nightshade vegetables (except peeled white potatoes) are something I can not (yet) tolerate.

Stacy-and-Wes-Reading-Paleo-Approach-by-PaleoParentsStacy-Happy-by-PaleoParents Stacy-Flipping-Tire-by-PaleoParents

I plan to continue my healing journey and hope to be a role model for those out there with autoimmune conditions. Keeping in mind that 2 years ago I was depressed with barely enough energy to slog through the day (thyroid and adrenal issues), I now am a fully charged woman who manages this blog, a podcast, writing books, a full-time job, raising 3 boys AND am training for a StrongMan competition in just a few months. I’m happy to report that The Paleo Approach quite literally gave me my life back.


please note: I did not mention my weight. That’s because it’s not a priority for me at this point. I am not putting on fat; I am getting stronger and leaner as I put on muscle from training. And, I am in pristine health when my doctor does annual blood tests. Once I got healthy and found the correct supplements for my missing gallbladder I stopped craving foods that were destructive for my health and mental well-being. Those are the things that matter… not the remaining 50lbs I’d originally hoped to lose. I am the size I was in high school, only much, much healthier! If my body is happy here, it’s just a matter of time before I finally convince my brain to be as well.

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  • Laura

    Do you mean low-fat instead of low-carb?
    ” I firmly believe that being so low carb for so long is the reason my health tanked in 2012″

    • No, Laura, I meant low-carb. For women being very low-carb for long periods of health can be detrimental for health, and I believe that it was the source of my problems in 2012 – specifically the symptoms I had related to adrenal fatigue and thyroid not functioning properly can be directly attributed to carbohydrates being too low. Here’s more info, and we’ve also podcasted about it a bunch and the show notes will be on this blog: http://www.paleoforwomen.com/carbohydrates-for-fertility-and-health/

      It also affected my ability to digest, as without a gallbladder my body needs carbohydrates to properly digest the fat. I posted more about that as well, if you serach on the blog under the gallbladder tag.

      I’ve personally found that, depending on activity, somewhere in the range of 75-150 work well for my body. Whereas my first year I was under 50 most days.

  • Wow that is awesome! Great job and thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Mallory

    Wow, that is so great. Further proof that finding something that works FOR YOU is the key.

  • Alexandra Jabr

    This was wonderful article. I am low carb myself, but I do believe that its not suited for everyone, especially those trying to be low fat and low carb. I appreciate how open you share your struggles, trial and errors. Im happy to hear that you have been able to reintroduce certain foods. I struggled to find out why my body responds so erratically to various foods, when I realized that the foundation needed some serious healing. Needless to say, I’m working on this weeks bone broth now, and my body is doing better than ever, so thank you for sharing =)

  • Rebecca Baron

    Do you know how this diet compares to the GAPS Intro. Diet? Does it include soaking and sprouting?

    • Instead of soaking and sprouting paleo just eliminates, that way you get none of the offenders instead of less – although we do agree soaking and sprouting is better.

      AI Paleo is very similar to GAPS, especially when focusing on the healing foods, but they are distinctly different.

  • Tracy Yndestad

    I preordered on amazon, won’t get it until Friday. It would have been nice to have the last two days as school was cancelled because of the cold (-22 with a -37 windchill) and I’m a teacher so I’ve been home.

  • Jen A

    Thanks for the encouraging words. We are struggling mightily with my daughter’s ever evolving food allergies. I believe she has autoimmune issues, but have not been able to find out for sure. Her dr and allergist think she is causing her response (shaky, dizziness, extreme stomach pain, and vertigo) I.e it’s all in her head. So very frustrating as a mom with limited resources for continued testing. Her allergies seem to change and adapt to what she eats, which lead me to suspect leaky gut issues. At 16 it is easier for her to say then I’m just not going to eat (so it doesn’t hurt) than it is to deal with eating things she doesn’t like (like meat or nuts). I appreciate your resources as I try to adjust cooking with tomatoes, potatoes, mustard and soy., and prepare things that are appealing to all without breaking a tight budget. Thanks!

  • CG

    Great read! I just bought this book and I’m looking forward to reading it. Interestingly enough, I came to the conclusion a few months ago that being low carb has been a disaster for my adrenals and thyroid. I’m slowly feeling better as I add carbs back in. (And my body temp is going up too!). I’m curious about which supplements you use, as my gallbladder was removed in 2010. I currently take digestive enzymes.

    • In the gallbladder post I note I got a script through a professional (Diana Rodgers, NTP) who gave me a regime from Biotics.

    • Angeline

      Interesting. You mention a low body temperature. I have iT all he time, now more then when i did not at paleo. I also gained more weight . I lost most off my healthissues:-) but found out that every couple of weekes i have to eat non-paleo in order to stay away from my Health issues. For a reason i can not think of right now, the low body temperature, among other things, did not ring a Bell to me.

  • Jennifer

    Great article! And another reminder that I need to bite the bullet and figure out how to cook the organ meat in my freezer from our 1/2 cow. I also popped over here to say that I watched the Grammys on Sunday, and as Pink was basically lifting a male dancer while bending backwards, my first thought was “Wow, she’s strong, look at those muscles.” and my second thought was, “It reminds me of Stacy’s Strongwoman pictures.”

    • that is such a HUGE compliment because I saw Pink and said “whatever she’s doing, i want to do it” she ROCKED that performance!

  • Liz

    Thanks for writing this Stacy.

  • Jessica Bahny

    Fantastic and inspiring. Stacy, you’re a paleo rock star! I pre-ordered as well, and am anxiously awaiting my copy to come Friday! I’ve been feeling not “quite right” myself for some time now, and I’m hoping I can glean some insights by reading this book. Awesome that you are healed- way to go!

  • Carol Terney Federoff

    Interesting. I’ll need to reread this at a time I can focus better but it’s interesting especially what you said about the gall bladder. I’ve been doing a paleo diet for the most part for the past several months and I do feel better but am still fatigued (though not as much) and and my homeopath thinks I have symptoms of an issue with my adrenal glands…. hmmmm…. I can’t believe I’m thinking of adding yet ANOTHER book to my list??

  • Tracie Koenig

    Very inspiring. I too suffered from gallbladder attacks and yes worse than labor pains. After I had it removed I thought all would be great. Not the case. I too suffered from irregular bowls, just thought I would forever. Ten years later and a round of antibiotics for bronchitis I was diagnosed with SIBO. I have been doing low fodmap for a few months and although better not perfect. I was also told I have slow transit time due to a twisted traverse colon. Just bought the book and cannot wait to start. Although the thought of giving up eggs, night shades and coffee make me nervous/sad. Thank you for sharing.

  • This is an interesting read..I was once was on a low carb diet as well , but was just too lucky I never had the symptoms as you did. Which confirms that line of thinking every body is different, what may work for someone may not work for another. Nonetheless, I am now completely on a paleo lifestyle and have never felt healthier than today. Paleo is indeed life changing.

  • J

    Awesome and motivating post. 🙂

  • Eloriel

    Wonderful and inspiring — thanks for sharing all that. What are the supplements you take for having no gallbladder? I have the same problem and have never seen or heard of how to compensate. Thanks in advance.

  • Mumsrea

    That’s it. I’m buying her book.

  • SFSpotless

    I love bone broth!!!!! A question about the veggie consumption – do you have/had FODMAP issues? I have a pretty limited veggie repertoire because onions/cruciferous veggies give me very unpleasant digestive symptoms. We’re talking Goodyear Blimp proportions. If you throw nightshades in there, there’s not much left but lettuce and spinach. Any ideas if that goes away with healing, or ways around it?

    • Sarah covers this extensively in the book! 😉

  • Hope

    Very encouraging article! I have several autoimmune conditions, celiac, alopecia areata, and psoriasis (fun, fun, and fun ;)) and struggle with anxiety. I’ve been gluten free for 2 years and my digestive issues that I had for years are gone completely, but my other issues are in a huge flare up right now. I just finished reading The Paleo Approach and it’s definitely something I want to try, but am so overwhelmed by cutting out so much stuff. I already eat Paleo but cutting out eggs, nightshades, and seeds seems undoable. Thank you for posting your story and that you were able to eventually re-introduce some foods. I know I need to figure out what works for me specifically. May I ask how long did you follow AIP strictly before being able to re-introduce? I know I need to set some goals or I’m not going to stick with this like I need to. When I’ve tried to be this strict before with my diet, I think I’ve tried reintroducing too early and quickly.

    • Hi Hope, I know it seems hard, but getting over that first emotional and mental hump is the hardest. I know you must feel like, “I’ve already given up so much! How can I give up more!” – I certainly had my fair share of temper tantrums. It was about 3 months before I started successfully reintroducing but about 9 months for most things after adding in the nutrient dense foods. I still can’t have nightshades without a bad flare, but I have reintroduced eggs in a moderate amount, as well as some nuts and seeds and seed based spices. Best of luck! It’s hard, but its worth it!