In the fall of 2010 my husband stumbled upon marksdailyapple.com and starting looking into the primal/paleo diet. As he learned about diet health, he shared the information with me, and I began to learn about it as well. It intrigued me and challenged my assumptions about diet health. After reading through Good Calories, Bad Calories, I became convinced that this diet was clearly on the right track, and decided to follow the Primal Blueprint.
At the time I did not have any intentions of losing weight. I carried around an extra 10-15 lbs, but didn't look or feel particularly fat, and was never concerned with weight loss; I simply wanted to be healthier. My concept of health at the time was the expectation that I would live longer and not be so decrepit in my old age. I had no idea what kind of changes were in store for me...
In following the diet, I immediately gave up grains, legumes, sugars and vegetable oils (which had previously constituted a fairly large portion of my diet). I ate mostly meat with a little bit of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy. I ate more potatoes than is probably recommended by the primal blueprint, but then again, the amount of safe starches you consume is supposed to be tailored to your individual needs, and I'm insulin sensitive, so I can handle the range of 100-150g carbs a day. What followed was a startling and entirely unexpected improvement in my well-being in a number of areas. Here are some of the spontaneous improvements that occurred when I switched to eating primally:
1. Improved bowel movements. I had been having trouble with what I believe were hemorrhoids and anal fissures. I kept bleeding when going to the bathroom and I experienced quite a bit of pain. My stools were large and bulky, and it had gotten to a point where it felt like I was passing a cactus. It was excruciating. When I changed my diet, my stools immediately softened and the hemorrhoids went away and the fissures healed. Going to the bathroom was no longer painful.
Shortly after going primal, I decided that I wanted to revert back to my old diet, so that I could eat all of the desserts and foods I was used to eating around Christmas time. I intended to temporarily forgo eating primally until the beginning of the new year. However, when I switched back to eating grains and such, the pain associated with going to the bathroom came back with such violence that it ultimately motivated me to switch back to eating primally, even before Christmas rolled around. I never want to experience that kind of pain again. Unfortunately, the second time I went primal, it took my bowels a full month to heal and get back to normal, but they have stayed normal ever since.
2. Reduced flatulence. I used to pass gas quite frequently, and this made me rather self-conscious. Giving up grains, however, seems to have eliminated the bulk of it. I hardly ever pass gas when I'm following the diet; it's a substantial reduction. I notice also that when I cheat and eat a lot of carbs or sugars, I get gassy again, though not quite as much as when I used to eat grains.
3. Elimination of back spasms. I had been having sharp spasms of pain in my back that would shoot through like bolts of lightning. I'd been getting them for about a past year or so, occurring roughly once every two weeks. I had gone to a chiropractor to try and get rid of the pain, but that accomplished nothing. In the months prior changing my diet, the spasms had increased in frequency to an average of once or twice a day. Within two days of going primal, the spasms stopped entirely. I had one small spasm within the week, and then nothing. In the past two and a half years of being primal, I've had a handful of weak spasms, but they are effectively gone.
4. Elimination of stomach pain. I used to have to eat about every three hours in order to avoid getting too hungry, because when I got really hungry, I would get an excruciating pain in my stomach that would last maybe half an hour to an hour and was completely incapacitating. Once the pain would start to set in, I would quickly try to eat as much as I could to stave it off, but it never worked. Once it started, it just had to play out. Generally I was paranoid about always making sure to eat in order to avoid this kind of pain, but it still ended up occurring every month or couple months anyway. After going primal, I stopped getting this pain. It recurred once only, after I made the mistake of ordering cream of broccoli soup at a restaurant. (It occurred to me afterwards that the soup was probably thickened with wheat flour.)
5. Reduced hunger. I think this one deals with having stabilized my blood sugar. I used to get hungry very often and eat frequently. Especially with the threat of the aforementioned stomach pain, I was particularly careful to always have food on hand. About two weeks after going primal, I just didn't get so hungry any more. And when I did feel hunger, it wasn't so pressing, and I could easily ignore it and it would go away for a while. This meant I could take the time to prepare food when I was hungry instead of rushing to grab whatever was quickest and most convenient. After I had adjusted and stabilized, I spontaneously ate less food and less frequency. Hunger was no longer such an urgent and constant issue.
6. Spontaneous weight loss. I was never particularly fat, but I did gain about 7 lbs in college and about 8 more lbs afterwards from eating a lot of fast food. Although I had a bit more fat on me than I would have preferred, it wasn't enough to bother me, so weight loss was never really a goal of mine. Nevertheless, in the course of six weeks on the diet, I lost 15 lbs and reverted to the weight I had been in high school, with a visible reduction in body fat. I was very happy with the resulting change in body image, especially considering it took no effort on my part. I wasn't even exercising. I've gained back some of the weight since then (probably because I haven't adhered consistently), but I still weigh less than I did before going primal.
7. Mood stabilization. One of the things that went with being hungry on my old diet was moodiness. When I was hungry, I got really irritable and difficult to be around. But once I was primal, that stopped. In the same way hunger no longer led to an urgent need for food, it also no longer led to bitchiness. But even beyond that, I generally felt a lot happier and more emotionally stable. Prior to the change in my diet I had experienced anxiety and depression on and off, but after the change in diet, it was mostly off. Happy is my default state and rare are the days when I feel overwhelmed by anxiety or depression. It's a vast and invaluable improvement in my general well-being.
8. Improved sleep. I used to have significant trouble falling asleep and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Insomnia was a problem for me. After going primal, I noticed that I just fell asleep fairly easily and quickly most nights, and woke up feeling well rested and refreshed in the mornings. It was a nice improvement. I've noticed that eating sugar/excessive starch is most disruptive to my ability to sleep well.
9. Increased energy. I used to be rather lethargic, not wanting to get up off the couch, not having a lot of energy to do stuff. After going primal, I had so much energy; I had no trouble getting up and moving about and I would get restless if I sat around too much.
10. Improved saliva production. Ever since my teenage years I've had trouble producing enough saliva. I always have to drink when I eat, or foods will get stuck in my throat, and it will be rather uncomfortable. I probably would have on average five glasses of water with a meal, just so that I could comfortably swallow the food. After improving my diet, this dropped to about one to two glasses, and sometimes I don't even need water at all with a meal. I think my saliva production is still a little lower than normal, but it's vastly improved when I eat well. Whenever I cheat and it too many carbs, my saliva production goes down again.
11. Improved dental hygiene/health. This probably goes along with the saliva production thing, but also I noticed that my teeth just did not accumulate anywhere near as much plaque as they used to. When I brush my teeth now, it's like they're already clean before I brush.
12. Improved immune function. I virtually don't get sick anymore. On occasion I'll get a bit of a sore throat, but in two and a half years, I've only really been sick once. And that includes a 6-week time period where I was in a house surrounded by sick people during cold season and a toddler bringing home germs from day care.
As you can see, it's quite the list of improvements, and the drastic change in my overall well-being convinced me that this primal diet was definitely the right one for me. It hasn't been all smooth sailing, though. For a while it was difficult to adhere consistently. I would generally do well for about a month, and then decide to have a cheat, and I'd eat some ice cream or chips or chocolate. I would often think that I could handle just a little bit, but a little bit would quickly turn into a lot, and then some of the pains would come back, and I would remember again why I was supposed to be avoiding those foods.
In general, I've been pretty good about avoiding grains. Initially I was very careful to avoid wheat (with the exception of an occasional burger bun) but cheated some with corn, somehow convincing myself it was a lesser evil. However, after a bit of that, it became clear to me that eating corn-containing foods resulted in negative side effects as well, and I cut it out completely, so I'm completely grain free now. I've also gotten to a point where I no longer cheat with wheat at all. It's just not worth it to me. Even though when I see cookies in the store and they look delicious, I also see them as instigators of pain, and I realize that the temporary reward from eating grains is outweighed by the negative side effects.
It's sort of been a learning process, every time I cheat. I've been able to notice which foods lead to which symptoms, and I've come to realize that even small amounts of grains and vegetable oils produce noticeable, adverse reactions. I'm now to the point, though, that I don't really cheat much at all any more. I really enjoy having good health and I like to keep it that way by not screwing it up with junk.