About five years ago I began seeing a naturopathic doctor for my Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, and she had suggested certain supplements, and a diet where I avoid gluten, wheat, white potatoes, rice, dairy, sugar, and the list went on. I tried to follow her advice, but that didn’t last very long. I then saw another naturopath a couple of years later, who performed a food sensitivities test, and ended up suggesting the same thing to me. I tried this diet again, but again failed, until recently.
In February of this year (2015), I had decided it was time to make a lifestyle change, and begin to follow what the naturopaths had previously suggested, and actually stick to it. So, I bought a couple of books on the Paleo diet, and did a fair bit of research online regarding the benefits of a Paleo diet for someone with Fibromyalgia, chronic pain, anxiety and depression, and to no surprise, the benefits were endless. What did I have to lose?
I’m sure you have heard of the Paleo of Paleolithic diet, as it has become rather popular here in North America over the last few years, due to gluten and dairy intolerance that seem to be popping up everywhere. Paleo diets are based on a simple assumption – if our ancestors didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either. So to fight against the illnesses caused by our modern diets, we should return back to our Paleo diet.
What can you eat?
- Lean meat, such as chicken, turkey, pork, lean beef, and buffalo (bison)
- Fresh fruit
- Non starchy vegetables, such as lettuce, asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and spinach
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, and pistachios (no peanuts)
- Seeds like pumpkin and sunflower
- Plant-based oils, such as olive, walnut, grape seed, avocado and coconut
What can’t you eat?
- Grains, such as oats, wheat, barley, and rice — which means no cereal, bread, pasta, bagels, crackers, or granola bars
- Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn, as well as potato and corn chips, tortillas, and popcorn
- Legumes or beans — so no peanuts or peanut butter; no soy foods, such as soy milk, tofu, or edamame; no hummus, black beans, or baked beans
- All dairy products — so no milk, yogurt, cheese, or ice cream
- High-fat meats, such as salami, bologna, pepperoni, hot dogs, ground meat, rib roast, and ribs
- Sugars, such as in soda, honey, jam or jelly, syrup, candy, cakes, cookies, and sports drinks
- Processed foods or trans fats, such as doughnuts, french fries, fruit snacks, or mac and cheese
- Salty foods, such as crackers, chips, pretzels, soy sauce, added-salt foods, or sports drinks
Studies have shown that by adopting the Paleo diet, there is significant reversal of autoimmune diseases, including; Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus, Graves’ disease (which my mom was diagnosed with around the time of my diagnosis) to name only a tiny fraction of autoimmune diseases. Elements of autoimmunity are likely at play in conditions as seemingly unrelated as Schizophrenia, infertility, and various forms of cancer. Interestingly, all of these seemingly unrelated diseases share a common cause, damage to the intestinal lining which allows large, undigested food particles to make their way into the body. This is called “leaky gut and the autoimmune response”.
There is a strand of truth on the claims of Paleo diet and its effects on Fibromyalgia patients because it basically removes all unnecessary food from the everyday diet of an individual. A paleo diet excludes all forms of processed foods, junk foods, and food with chemical preservatives, refined sugar, MSG (monosodium glutamate), artificial flavorings, refined carbohydrates and many more. It can be said that through the rigorous adherence to such a diet, one can lessen the effects of Fibromyalgia and its debilitating symptoms.
Benefits of Paleo diet
As a whole, the Paleo diet helps us in many ways. The health benefits of the Paleo diet includes – stability in our blood sugar levels (which, as someone who has suffered with hypoglycemia my entire life, I noticed this stabilization right away), burning of our stored fat thus helping us in reducing our weight (I lost five pounds pretty quickly, and still have a few to go!), improvement in our sleep (yep!), reduction in getting allergies, strengthening of the immune system and getting a better balance energy throughout our day. Research has shown that our Paleolithic ancestors and contemporary hunter-gatherers in many ethnic groups today, shows virtually no heart attack or stroke while eating ancestral diets and living a more active and less sedentary life.
Paleo for Anxiety and Depression
Most people know that what you eat affects how you feel. Scientists are increasingly discovering that a healthy gut is crucial to mental well-being, going so far as to describe the roughly 100 million neurons embedded in your gut as a “second brain.” This “second brain” has local control over digestion, but that’s not its only role. It communicates extensively with the brain through a neural pathway called the vagus nerve. Researchers are slowly uncovering the enormous impact of this communication on our emotions: one successful treatment for depression, for example, involves stimulating the vagus nerve to mimic the action of a healthy gut.
The communication between the two brains runs both ways. Stress can prevent healthy digestion and set off a vicious cycle of physical health problems. Gut dysfunction (due to chronic disease, poor gut flora, or any other reason) also has negative consequences for your mental health. This makes gut healing invaluable for overall well-being: clean, nourishing food benefits your mind as well as your body. A Paleo diet can support your mental health in two essential ways: first, it avoids damaging your brain tissue (both above and below your shoulders) with harmful inflammation; second, it provides all the micronutrients and helpful bacteria that your brain needs to thrive.
I began on my Paleo “journey” on March 1, 2015, and although I have had my ups and downs with it, for the most part, I have tried my best to stick to it for the sake of my health. The first week was incredibly difficult (my boyfriend can attest to this) as I had no idea what to eat. I was so used to having some type of bread with every meal, that I didn’t know what to replace that with. My other concern was cutting out the sugar, as I have had quite the sweet tooth for my entire life (as kids, my friend Katie and I used to go to the convenience store on weekends and buy a huge bag full of candy, come home, watch and movie and stuff ourselves until we were in a sugar coma). Not much has changed since childhood!
We did a big grocery shop and bought everything the Paleo books had suggested. After the first month, it became easier and easier to stick to, and I really don’t miss the bread, pasta, or sugar like I used to. I have managed to find alternatives outside of processed sugar, such as my favourite “baked bananas”, however, I do eat birthday cake and sweets from time to time. Eventually I plan to stick to this diet 100%. It can be difficult when visiting with friends, family, and eating out at restaurants, as I give in to my temptations quite easily! For those who know me, this is no surprise. My boyfriend has quite the sweet tooth as well, and he does his best not to eat sugar around me, but at times I can be incredibly tempted to eat the dessert he’s eating!
I have noticed many, many benefits to my body and general health from this diet. Right away, my daily headaches and migraines had completely subsided, I had no stomach pain after eating (I thought this symptom was normal for the last 30 years), I had more energy, my all over body pain decreased, I was sleeping better, my skin looked clearer, my nails were growing quicker, my hair was silkier, I felt a bit less depressed and anxious, my blood sugar levels levelled out, and the list goes on. If I stray from this diet, I notice that my symptoms come RIGHT back, which is very good reason to try to stick to this diet as much as possible.
We live close to the St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto, which has all of the fresh fruit, veggies, and meats that you could possibly want. There is also a farmer’s market on Saturday’s where local farmers bring their Ontario produce. When I shop at the grocery store, I only walk around the outside perimeter where the fresh food is located and try not to go down the middle aisles unless I’m grabbing coffee, tea, or coconut sugar. At some point soon, we plan to create weekly menus to make the shopping and eating a bit easier on us. When I go back to work, I will cook lunches in advance for the week so I’m not tempted to eat out or go to the vending machine!
As I sit here typing at Starbucks while sitting on my herbal tea, I am tempted to buy a croissant or giant cookie, but I don’t allow myself to cave into my temptations anymore (for the most part!)
As a note, this diet is what works for me because of all of the sensitivities I have to food, and may not work for others. However, this doesn’t mean I haven’t tried (and failed) to suggest this diet to my boyfriend, family and friends 😉
In case others are interested in trying out the Paleo diet, or are looking for meal ideas, I will be doing a post in the future about what I eat on a daily and weekly basis.
Have you tried the Paleo diet for your fibromyalgia, chronic pain, anxiety or depression? Did you find it helped?
Thanks for stopping by!