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!

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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.

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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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