Friday, May 9, 2014

My Personal Paleo Code

Ahhh, I can't believe I'm writing this... So. As I mentioned a few posts ago we recently went gluten-free due to my under-active thyroid. What I thought was an experiment to help my thyroid also proved to highlight the cause of the eczema issues that Carsen had been dealing with. After eliminating gluten from our diet {around mid-February}, I've continued doing research on thyroid disorders- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis {an autoimmune hypothyroid disorder or AITD} in particular. I've read articles, blogs, meta-research, e-books, and watched an online seminar. I have learned A LOT about how the thyroid functions, and perhaps more importantly- what it means to have hypothyroid/Hashimoto's. And I have to say, you can barely read a word on Hashimoto's or AITD without mention of the dreaded Paleo diet in some form. I say dreaded because it's something I've been avoiding for a long time, but in the back of my mind have known was probably a good idea. Anyway, everything I came across was written by a Paleo enthusiast, included testimonials by autoimmune sufferers who had great success on the diet, or included recommendations for it. I imagine the same is true for a lot of autoimmune disorders since that seems to be the connection between Paleo and Hashimoto's. In short, eating a Paleo diet seems to heal/reverse a variety of autoimmune disorders at best, and provide some relief of symptoms at worst.

Since I am most interested in managing my condition with an integrative/functional medicine approach {treating the cause of the problem instead of just suppressing symptoms}, I was rather intrigued by all the positive Paleo talk I encountered, so I went to the library to pick up this bad boy....
Only 394 pages of history, science, encouragement, testimonials, recipes, meal plans, and resources.

In general I'm opposed to "diets," especially ones that eliminate entire categories of food. They just seem really difficult to maintain over the long-term and if I can't maintain it for life then it's not really worth it to me. If you know anything about the Paleo diet, it's pretty restrictive: no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no legumes, no soy, no refined oils, no artificial ingredients. Boiled down, it's basically meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Pretty rough, right? People do it though. And you can't deny that it's a very nutritious way of eating. I personally just have a hard time with things being totally "off limits." That only serves to make me crave those exact foods like never before. Thus, I have been opposed to the Paleo diet {for myself} from the first I learned of it, mostly on the basis that I felt like there's no way I could maintain it. That is, until I ran into a guy named Chris Kresser along my thyroid research journey.

Chris Kresser has written extensively about thyroid health and Hashimoto's, and even more about autoimmune disorders, and more still about health in general. After reading the articles and e-books on his web site and hearing his talk in the online seminar I watched, I headed to the library in search of his newest book. I figured it was worth reading for free :) At this point, I'm still in the first section and ready to dive into the plan! I can't really believe I'm saying that myself, but I am so ready to see if it can make a difference for me. 

So, how was I so easily convinced after being so totally opposed??
First- From what I've learned about hypothyroid, the vast majority {some sources say up to 90%!} of cases are an autoimmune condition {Hashimoto's Thyroiditis}. I'm kind of terrified that I likely have an autoimmune disease. I don't like that one bit and this is something I can personally do about it.

Second- As such a large portion of our immune system is housed in our digestive tract, autoimmune conditions can be a result of problems like a "leaky gut" {when the lining of the digestive tract becomes irritated and allows tiny particles of what we eat to enter our bodies outside the intestines}. The way to repair a leaky gut is to stop eating foods that irritate it, and to eat foods that are gut healing instead. This is the basic premise of the Paleo diet.

Third- The book, Your Personal Paleo Code, outlines a 3-step plan that makes the Paleo diet much more manageable and customizable than the super-restricted list of foods I described above. It starts out with a very bare-bones diet of foods known not to irritate the gut. After 30 days of gut healing {longer if you want}, the second step is to begin adding some foods back in like dairy or legumes. Dairy will probably be most sorely missed by me, so I'll definitely want to try that one. Some of those "off limits" foods are just plain bad for you though and you probably shouldn't bother adding them back anyway. I mean, going right back to eating refined flour, sugar and oils is just going to put you back where you were when you started. Adding things gradually on a trial basis helps you to identify which foods are well-tolerated and which ones trigger your symptoms or make you just not feel well. The third step is fine-tuning what you learn from the second step: macronutrient ratios, adjusting for your personal activity level, figuring how much and how often you need to eat, and how you can further optimize your health with things like super-foods and supplements. 

Fourth- There's a lot of credible evidence in the book pointing to the benefits of eating a Paleo-style diet. These include not just longevity, but decreased risk for so many of the awful ailments that have become the common causes of death for Americans like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer's. Honestly, what happened to dying of plain old age? That's what I'm going for- really old and fairly healthy right to the end. Of course, nothing guarantees long life, or even health. But if there are simple things I can control, like eating better, that can reduce my risks for some of the nasty diseases that could cause me suffering as I age, then why not? Not to mention the benefit of better health, strength, and energy now while I'm young and raising my children. 

Ok, so that's the long and short of it. A journey is about to commence! I'm nervous about sticking with it, but I'm really really looking forward to seeing how I feel and how my body responds to this new healthier way of eating. I think it's going to be a long 30+ days, but hopefully somewhere in there I'll start to see or feel changes that motivate me to hang in there. It seems especially intimidating when I think of the things I won't be able to eat {during the first step, after that he really does encourage you to enjoy anything you want on occasion, and I love that}. But if I stop and think about it in terms of just eating new things it really doesn't seem that bad. I was pinning some recipe ideas on Pinterest this afternoon, and I'll admit to being kind of excited to try some of them. Happily, Josh has agreed to join me on this journey. He has no reason not to, and I do the grocery shopping/cooking anyway so he'd probably be doing it even if he didn't know it! I know that having him on board will be a lot of motivation and will just make it easier for me. I also connected with a Facebook group that's planning to start this plan on Monday, so it will be nice to have a group of people who are at the same point in the process to commiserate share thoughts and ideas with! :D

I'll keep you posted on what we're eating and how we're feeling! Here goes nothing ;)

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