Paleo sometimes gets a bad rap among “normal” eaters. Yeah, it’s a little extreme: No sugar, no grain, no dairy. But what if a Paleo convert told you that they didn’t turn to the diet to lose weight—but instead to manage their autoimmune or digestive disorder?
“I thought the Paleo diet was so stupid,” says Carol Lovett, author of the gluten-free and Paleo-friendly cookbook “Ditch The Wheat”. “Really, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to eat like a caveman,” Six years ago, Lovett found herself asking her doctor about going gluten-free. Tired of battling a lifelong case of IBS, a common autoimmune disorder that affects digestion, she was willing to try anything—even ditching bread forever.
Her doctor recommended she try it, to see how it affected her. “Immediately, I noticed a difference in my digestion and how I felt. After about five days, I decided to go totally gluten-free, for life,” says Lovett. Confused about how to even start cooking without grains, Lovett decided her best bet was to try Atkins, the original low-carb high-protein diet. As she perused low-carb recipes on the web, she found dish after dish was laden with milk, cream, and cheese—all dairy products that made her stomach feel just as bad as gluten. A quick search for non-dairy, gluten-free recipes led Lovett to the Paleo community online.
“I didn’t mean to start following the Paleo diet,” says Lovett, laughing. “I didn’t even really want to! But, it kind of just happened, and I found it really worked for me.” Her story isn’t as unique as you might imagine—more and more people are eating “primal” not because they want to lose weight, but to help manage symptoms that come with autoimmune diseases, food intolerances, and allergies.
It makes sense, because the Paleo diet is essentially an anti-inflammatory diet. Heavy on green leafy vegetables, healthy fats, and organic animal protein—all foods that were theoretically eaten by our cavemen ancestors—it eschews any type of food that needs to be processed before it’s edible. That means tree nuts, grains, dairy, legumes, soy, sugar, and manufactured foods are all off-limits. Comparing the “not allowed” Paleo list with the FDA’s list of most allergenic foods, it’s striking how many items overlap. Because it eliminates foods that are highly allergenic—and therefore inflammatory—and is full of healthy fats and vitamin-rich veggies, a primal diet can help soothe inflamed tissues.
There’s even a more specific sub-diet of Paleo called the “The Autoimmune Protocol.” Developed for those with any autoimmune disorder, ranging from asthma to Restless Leg Syndrome, it cuts out the few foods left on the Paleo diet that may trigger issues in someone with a compromised immune system, like nightshades, eggs, and nuts. The Paleo diet is so effective at helping to manage issues like IBS, eczema, candida, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and even anxiety that functional medicine practitioners like Chris Kresser recommend it to their patients.
After experimenting with eating Paleo at home, Lovett started her own blog full of her gluten- and grain-free recipes—and the internet loved it. Boasting 140,000 Facebook followers and hundreds of thousands of visitors a month, her food blog has become a mainstay of Paleo and gluten-free eaters. Readers with IBS or Celiac disease often tell her that following a primal diet is the first thing that’s helped them get better. She’s found so much success creating recipes on the web that she decided to compile 120 favorites into her first printed gluten-free, Paleo-friendly cookbook, “Ditch the Wheat.”
Have you been able to manage health issues by changing your diet? Tell us about it in the comments below!