13
Jul

My Health Transformation

Comparison

I thank you all for your overwhelming support from this article!  Please see my follow-up post if you have questions.

If you have followed my blog or my Facebook page for a long time, you have read snippets of my story here and there. Honestly, it was still so raw and painful that I didn’t really want to revisit those memories in depth. Now that I am approaching my 2-year remission mark, I have gained the courage to share and am doing so with the hope of helping others. I wanted to sit and write it all out with somewhat of a timeline so people could gain a better understanding of my healing journey, but it wasn’t until I started writing my new cookbook that I felt like it was the right time. I finally had a medium to share my full story, all in once place. And what better way to introduce my cookbook than to explain why I eat this way in the first place, and what drives me to continue creating grain-free recipes. I included an excerpt from the book at the bottom of the post, but because I was limited in word count and pages, I kept it somewhat brief. The post below fills in a lot of gaps and digs deeper into my symptoms and journey. It’s a long 6 years to try to get everything on paper, so if I missed things and you have questions, you may be able to find them on my FAQ page or through my various interviews.

 

There are many different reasons people follow the Paleo diet. Not one is better than another in my opinion. If they stick with it, they all find their way to the healthiest version of themselves one way or another, regardless of the initial reasoning.

1. Those looking to lose weight

2. Those with serious illnesses who have no other choice

4. Those wanting optimal health and performance

3. The bandwagoners – the ones that just do it because “everyone else is doing it”

 

So often, Paleo is mislabeled as a quick-fix weight loss diet.  It’s true, if someone is overweight and they start eating this way then they will likely lose weight in the process of finding their body’s optimal health level. But you can also gain weight as well. The stories that show up in the pages of magazines or are featured on the news have headlines like “I lost 100 pounds with Paleo.” While that is a huge accomplishment and of course garners media attention, it is not about the weight loss, rather that the person is healing their body and allowing it to function properly again at a weight that is just right for that particular body. I had the same health transformation, except for my weight went the opposite way. I was extremely malnourished due to an autoimmune condition and Paleo helped heal my body so it could naturally put on the weight it needed to thrive. That is a story you don’t hear often, but deserves every bit as much attention. What matters isn’t my weight, but that I am healthy. I am not sick anymore. I never thought I would be able to say that!

 

 

I was #2.  

I was diagnosed with a very severe form of ulcerative colitis at the age of 22 in late 2007. Ulcerative Colitis is an autoimmune disease similar to Crohn’s disease that attacks the colon. Before finding Paleo, I had been on a 3-year path to total destruction as the disease was wreaking havoc on my body. During 2007-2011, I was seriously ill and incapacitated 6 months of the year and bordered death more than once only to be saved by multiple blood transfusions and iron infusions.

Because the disease causes malabsorption and the fact that I would be in the bathroom (using both-ends….) 15-20 times a day, my weight would fluctuate drastically with each flare-up and I would often lose 20-25 pounds within a 4 week period. The vast weight loss would trigger an arthritis type pain, ridiculously high heart rate, hair-loss, and over-all malnutrition.  I was regularly on a huge 100mg dose of prednisone steroids which resulted in debilitating side-effects like 100% sleepless nights, unbearable joint pain, and insatiable hunger.

 

Emaciated

I could often be found balled up on the floor of our little apartment bathroom crying after falling due to knee and ankle pain or even just because of the large chunks of hair that had just fallen out after simply running my fingers through it. We frequented the ER, spent countless hours at the doctors, and weeks at a time being admitted to the hospital. I couldn’t be without a restroom nearby for more than 20 minutes and panicked when we would leave the house. And of course, I quickly developed the number 1 side effect of steroids, the moon-face. Which seems trivial compared to the other side effects, but as a 2-month newlywed, was heartbreaking and embarrassing.

MoonFace

 

But my husband was never anything but supportive. During our first year of marriage, he took care of me better than anyone ever could have. He slept with me on a wood plank bed at a ‘hospital’ in Uganda for 10 days and never left my side. He pushed me in a wheel-chair through airports and argued with every security guard and flight attendant to make sure I was comfortable. He managed my doctors and made sure I received the care I needed when I was too weak to speak. He even administered enemas. If you don’t know what that is, then you’re better for it and I’ll leave you to your own research devices!

UgandaRoom

 

My doctors refused to speak to me about diet and only wanted to continue prescribing medications. Through my own research and seeking out others who had seen relief through food, I realized I had two choices – continue spending 6 months of the year seriously ill (and the other half recovering) and go on an  immunosuppressant drug that would be administered for 5-hour periods once a week, or radically change my diet and pray that it would help me as I had read it had helped others. I had previously tried gluten-free, unprocessed foods, and the SCD, but none had eliminated my symptoms as I had hoped.

So I took the plunge and  went ‘Paleo.’

Although at the time I didn’t even know what Paleo was, but my diet practically mirrored the basic guidelines of Paleo, so that is what I became. I worked with a naturopath to find trigger foods and eliminated them all for a long period while we worked with supplements to heal the trauma that had been caused to my gut from being sick so long. Specifically, I cut out all nuts/seeds, eggs, dairy, and legumes. After we saw progress, I slowly started adding them back in, with the exception of legumes and most dairy which I have purposefully continued to avoid as I know my system cannot handle them.

If you have followed my blog or my Facebook page for a long time, you have read snippets of my story here and there. Honestly, it was still so raw and painful that I didn’t really want to revisit those memories in depth. Now that I am approaching my 2-year remission mark, I have gained the courage to share and am doing so with the hope of helping others.

Hospital

I am often asked to clarify when I was following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet vs the Paleo diet and how all of that came to be. Instead of re-writing the pages of my book here, I thought I would give my readers an excerpt from the beginning of my book. I didn’t feel comfortable including some of the photos above in the book without proper explanations or the chance for people to ask questions, but they are such a good illustration of my healing process so I wanted to share them with you. Instead, I chose to show who I am now : a representation of health. You can click on the photos below to make them large enough to read.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 2.43.28 PM

  • Kimberly Lee

    I was diagnosed with UC a year after the death of my husband. At 46 I too suffered bouts of diarrhea that left me dehydrated and in the hospital. Just like your doctor told you diet wouldn’t make a difference so did mine. I discovered Dr John McDougall and Dr Joel Furhman and their belief in a plant based diet. I embraced that life almost a year ago and have enjoyed great health benefits. My first ever clean colonoscopy back in February keeps me encouraged. Leaving dairy, eggs, meat and processed foods out of my diet has made a huge difference for me. I just found your site…..thank you for the testimony. Prayers for you and your family in your time of need.

  • Sabrina Joy Barclay Williams

    I have been sick since April of 2009 started with having seizures. Then that started a snow ball affect. They told me I have Mixed Connective Tissue Disease which is an auto-immune disease. They have just put me on meds but I stay sick. Recently in the past year I have gained around 60 pounds, became anemic, had three surgeries, and just in the last month my hair has started falling out to the point it awful. I seen you on The Doctors today and I realized maybe I need to give this a try, I meam obviously all the meds they have me on are not helping.

  • Karla

    Danielle, so you don’t take ANY meds anymore for colitis? It’s just strictly in remission due to diet? If so, when did you stop the meds…was it after you started feeling better with diet change or did you stop right before you started the diet change? Just wondering since I would like to stop the bilogics that I’m on…

  • careyon151

    I have not one but 3 auto-immune diseases. Lupus diagnosed in my late 30′s, fibromyalgia diagnosed in late 40′s and now at 65 Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I have been put on a form of the Paleo, but I also had to cut out ALL gluten and dairy. It is touch – I admire your family’s patience and understanding. So glad you found something that works. Foods are not like they were before the 1970′s. The wheat that is used in almost all processed food has been genetically modified and turns to sugar in your bloodstream. – Everyone should CUT OUT processed foods!!!! I am learning late in life. Good Luck to all who are fighting auto-immune diseases

  • klg

    i had 19 different diagnosis, up to and including lupus. when i was told that, i decided there is no way, i’m not accepting that. i saw a naturopath and was diagnosed with with systemic candida. once we got that under control, all but 2 of my diagnosis are gone, high blood pressure and insomnia. what it amounted to was the candida in my body was running rampant in my blood and organs and wreaking havoc all over my body. medical doctors will typically not recognize that
    diagnosis, but i can tell you from firsthand experience that getting that under
    control, going all natural with meds (except blood pressure), getting off all
    artificial sweeteners, processed foods/sugars and gluten, i have my
    life back. it wasn’t easy, but it has been so worth it. no more pain meds is
    the best part, i had to take 2-3 vicodin every day for almost 5 years just to be
    able to function. it inspired me so much that at 50 years old i am going back
    to school to become a naturopath, it’s so fascinating and it is totally true –
    we are what we eat. i have seen cancer CURED, progressive ms CURED, guillain-barre CURED, people off the man-made medications and people’s lives totally changed by changing their intake. consider being checked for candida, it’s a beast!

    • Christina

      Just curious, how long did it take to get your candida under control? I’ve been going to a naturopath since the beginning of June-strictly following the candida diet since May 23, 2014. I know that’s not too long, but not really feeling too much better :( bloated tummy, ear ringing, waking exhausted and tired all day are my biggest issues. I see him again next week. Just wondering is the end in sight???

      • mjhoop

        Perhaps you have more than one problem and the candida diet is not sufficient. Something else can be involved.

        That ear ringing and exhaustion….have you kept a food record to see if there is still something in your diet? By eliminating dairy, gluten, and sugar, then keeping a record, you might figure out sooner what else is a problem for you. It’s how I do it and it takes attention, but I see definite improvement. I put down the times of eating and of the physical problems to help see the patterns.

        For tinnitus….. I use a radio set very low on the BBC World Service (try National Public Radio at night. WS is on at least two stations all night long in my area….) The presenters have lulling well-modulated voices that mask the ear noise on the nights it just won’t stop. If you can’t get BBC, maybe you can find music or an audio book to turn on in the bedroom.

        I’m used to not sleeping at night, so try to take naps morning and afternoon to supplement my 4 to 6 hours at night. Try lying on your back in a cool bedroom and concentrate on something simple. See an image in your head and every time your attention wanders from the image, drag it back to the image and stick with it. If it takes a couple of weeks or months to get good at the imaging, it’ll be worth it on some nights when you fall asleep quickly. I promise you that.

        I haven’t worked out all the problem foods yet, but the progress I’ve made (and doctors won’t recognize) makes me hopeful.
        Grain fed beef is expensive, but worth it for the occasional hamburger that I crave. I buy NO farm-raised fish. And wild fish is not always the variety it’s sold as, so consider that when testing it in your diet.

        I thought about writing a book, but don’t have Danielle’s young age and motivation on my side! The years we have left can determine what projects we take on!!! And since we all are different we all have our own remedies. I hope this post will help you. Don’t give up and don’t look for all-purpose or too simple answers. Although, each item you can check off your shopping list will be a major answer for you. Hang in there….you can do this.