Meet A Paleo Long-Termer

Meet Jennifer!  Jennifer is an old friend of my younger sister.  I've known her for a long time (from way back in the sleep-over days).  If you think your life is just too busy or too stressed for Paleo or that your schedule is just too hard to manage for the Paleo lifestyle, Jenn has another thing coming for you.  She's a bad-ass police officer working graveyard shift in a major city, but she still pulls it off.  Jenn is in her early 30's doing straight Paleo and CrossFit (she just competed in a competition!  Woot!).  She was one of the first folks to really encourage me when I found Paleo and I thought her amazing story of managing her thyroid issues and beating an exposure to Hep C (WTH!  Scary!) on the job would be a great read for all of you.  

1)  When did you start?  How long have you been doing it?
I was introduced to Paleo about three years ago.  At first it was on and off while I was trying to figure out how to really incorporate this into my life, I would say over the last couple of years I have been more consistent and my diet is now about 90% Paleo, I still use some protein supplements.   About three times a year I do one full month of strict Paleo.

2)  How did you learn about it?
I actually learned about it when I started doing CrossFit three years ago.  When I started we had to go through an "intro" type class, called OnRamp, where we learned all the basic movements and fundamentals of CrossFit.  During this time my coaches focused a lot on nutrition.  Anyone who does CrossFit knows that CrossFit and Paleo almost always go hand in hand.  I had gone in just for something new to try out, and honestly at first didn’t really buy in to the whole Paleo idea and kept eating whatever I felt like at the time.  I never thought my diet was really that bad, but looking back it definitely wasn’t good.

3)  What motivated you to give it a try?
I ended up deciding to give it a try when one of my coaches put together a 30-day “cut the crap” challenge.  It was basically 30 days of strict Paleo.  The whole idea was to get as many people on board as possible and do it as a group so we could support each other.  They really focus on a well-rounded healthy lifestyle and have often said, “You can’t out train a bad diet.”  You can workout a thousand times a day but you’ll never reach your full potential or optimal health until you get your nutrition on board.  When I started getting more serious about my training and interested in some competitions I realized that in order to really progress athletically I needed to change my outlook on food and what I was putting in my body.

4)  Before you began, what seemed the most difficult?
I would say when we had first started the most difficult thing was food planning.  Before this it was easy when I didn’t have time to cook to throw a sandwich together or just grab something packaged out of the cupboard.  It was especially difficult at work, some nights I barely had time to eat at all and hitting a drive through was sometimes the most convenient way to feed myself.  I also had a difficult time with the idea that no bread was allowed, after all everywhere you look everyone tells you that grains are good for you, so it took me a while to grasp the concept that I don’t actually need grains in my diet.

5)  After beginning, what are the greatest challenges?
At first I was having a hard time figuring out what I could eat.  After all, a person could eat nothing but carrots all day and while that would technically be considered Paleo, it is not healthy.  The easiest way for me is to follow a Paleo zone type diet, so I make sure to get the right balance of protein, healthy fats, and carbs in every meal.  I try to organize ahead of time and am constantly looking for new recipes and new ideas to get a lot of variety.

6)  What has been the greatest benefit? 
There’s so many its hard to pick just one!  I think just improving my overall health was the greatest benefit.  When I was a teenager my diet was never very good and when I was 15 I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism.  After a year of several prescription medications to regulate my thyroid, regulate my heart rate, and slow my immune system down I was sicker than I’d ever been and they finally decided to cut it out.  After having my thyroid surgery I then struggled with constant low calcium.  I’m not talking about a minor vitamin deficiency. I’m talking even with insane amounts of calcium/vitamin D supplements and prescription levels of vitamin D my calcium levels were still dangerously low.  The general consensus was that my parathyroid was damaged during the surgery.  Then to top it off when I was 17 I had a suspicious mole removed that turned out to be melanoma.  I had always just assumed I was unlucky, but after my last few years of constant reading about health I realized that I might have been able to greatly help myself through diet.  At the time my favorite drink was Mountain Dew and I LOVED processed sugars.  Sadly that was something my doctors never talked to me about.  After being consistent and adopting a mostly Paleo diet my calcium levels are finally close to a normal range, for the first time in 14 years, and so far no more cancerous moles.

Another major benefit has been at work.  I have been working as a police officer for a major city for almost nine years now.  I have been working graveyard in the busier part of the city for my entire career.  Working graveyard can be challenging to say the least, trying to figure out when to sleep, eat etc.  This is when most nights I would just hit the Jack in the Box drive through because it was easy and fast.  After a few years on graveyard my blood pressure was so high I was told I had stage one hypertension and the doctor wanted to put me on prescription medication to help control it.  He also pressured me constantly about going to dayshift.  At the time I said no as I didn’t think I needed drugs and didn’t have enough seniority for dayshift.  I figured that it was all due to my lack of sleep and the general stress of the job.  After changing my nutrition habits my blood pressure is on the low end of normal, my stress levels at work have significantly dropped, and I usually sleep 8-9 hours a day unless my work wakes me up.  All this was accomplished just from changing my food.  And I still work graveyard.    One more thing I would mention, a couple years ago while at work I had the unfortunate experience of a blood exposure and when I went in for a blood test they told me that I had the antibodies for Hepatitis C.  I had hoped that it was a false positive but wasn’t so lucky.  I went through several tests over several months with several doctors, and was told that I did not have the virus, only the antibodies.  They had explained that a very lucky few people are able to clear the virus when they come into contact with it, but will always have the antibodies.  Of everything I had read at the time there didn’t seem to be much explanation on why some people are able to clear the virus on their own.  I still don’t know but I like to think that maybe I was giving my body the best tools to protect itself through food.

7)  What new info about nutrition surprised you the most?

When I started reading a lot about nutrition, one thing that surprised me was the science behind nutrition and the body, and particularly the role of insulin in health and disease.  I never knew the consequences of elevated blood sugar were so serious and how many diseases it is linked too.  There is so much data and research about how something as simple as eating better can cure most common ailments and yet it’s just not something that people turn to.  By far the most frustrating thing to me is when someone goes to a doctor they are more likely to be sent to the pharmacy instead of the produce aisle.  God gave us the tools to heal ourselves and our most powerful medicine comes simply from nature, yet it’s constantly over looked.

8)  Do you plan to continue?

Absolutely!  I can’t think of one reason not to.  I’ve never felt better in my life, physically and mentally.  I began Paleo for athletic performance, and I’m continuing so I can prevent the scourge of diet-induced disease.  It has also done wonders for my athletic performance.

9)  What is your favorite Paleo dish?
Beets.  I can’t stop eating them for some reason…I steam them then toss them with some coconut oil and some Himalayan rock salt and sea kelp seasoning.  Also toasted broccoli with garlic.  I also eat a ton of meat; I buy most of my meat from US Wellness meats, all organic, grass-fed/finished.  My dog is also on a raw diet and I feed her meat I buy from there.  We fight over the chicken a lot.

10)  What non-Paleo food do you still miss?

Cheese!  When I say 90% Paleo, I still eat a little cheese on occasion.  It used to be cookies but since I’ve gotten off sugar I crave those a lot less now a days.

11)  Have you learned new skills in the kitchen as a result of cooking so much more?
Most definitely.  I used to hardly ever cook and make my own food, now I cook almost every day.  I’ve gotten really good at making things in bulk, so I can store it and bring it to work with me and have handy meals to just grab out of the fridge for the convenience factor that I love.

12)  Have there been any unexpected changes?
One thing I’d have to add here is everyone comments on my complexion.  My skin looks amazing!  I don't use any special products or anything, just coconut oil and good food.  One creepier person at the store told me he loved how white my eyes were.  I was scared, flattered, but scared.  Also I’m rarely sick anymore.  Even if I do get a cold it seems less severe and doesn’t last as long.

13)  Who would you encourage to try Paleo?

Everyone.  Anyone who wants to be happy and healthy.  Just because you don’t have issues now doesn’t mean you won’t later.  Some health issues develop slowly over time, don’t wait until it’s too late to make changes and take charge of your own health.  I wish every day that when I was 15 I knew half as much about nutrition as I do now.  And while so many people are obsessed with fat loss and looking good, why not try a diet that optimizes fat loss and helps build lean muscle while avoiding chronic disease?  Really what is there to loose?

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