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How My Life Changed After I Went Paleo

"I wasn't doomed to poor digestion forever—I just had to learn the right way to feed myself."

The funny thing about me being paleo is that, for the longest time, I thought the paleo diet sounded, well, kind of stupid. Ditch grains? But people have been eating them for eons. What's wrong with beans, or dairy? These are healthy foods, duh.

I was always a healthy eater in the conventional sense—I ate my vegetables (I was even vegetarian for a few years), limited and sometimes cut out red meat, limited fat, opted for whole-grain bread and pasta, etc. But I also always had terrible digestion. As a kid and young adult, I ended up in the ER a few times with acute stomach pains, and day to day suffered from bloating and…let's just say other digestive issues. At 23, I had a peptic ulcer.

And yet, I never once questioned how my eating habits could be affecting my digestion. I was doing everything right—eating "well," getting plenty of exercise, all of that. The fact that I had a "bad stomach"—more than one gastro doc actually said that—was just luck of the draw.

How I Discovered My Inner Cavewoman

Then, in 2014, three things happened around the same time that changed everything. One was reading Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, where I learned the grains we have now are not the same as what our ancestors ate; another was interviewing Dave Asprey about the Bulletproof diet, reading his book (The Bulletproof Diet) and trying the coffee; and finally, doing a "whole-food cleanse," aka an elimination diet, with Aynsley Kirshenbaum, a nutritionist based in my Brooklyn neighborhood. During the 12-day cleanse, I gave up wheat, corn, soy, peanuts, dairy, sugar, and a few other common irritants. I didn't expect much since I was already a relatively healthy eater—but wow, was I shocked.

Bulletproof coffee

I've always been pretty energetic (a nice way of saying "annoyingly fidgety"), but my energy absolutely skyrocketed. I felt so mentally alert and physically strong. I wasn't overweight before, but I leaned out. Best of all, the digestive issues I'd suffered for my entire life were gone. Yes, gone. Turns out, I don't have a "bad stomach" after all—I was just feeding it all wrong.

It took going back on some of the irritating foods for a short time to figure out exactly what was hurting me. But once the picture got clearer, I started trying other things—giving up all legumes instead of just soy and peanuts, passing on all grains instead of just wheat and corn, etc. Where I landed was essentially the paleo diet.

Yes, I Eat More Than Bacon

Now, when I say "paleo," some people assume that means I eat bacon all day, which is not true. That's a misconception about paleo—that it's all meat, all the time. My actual diet isn't strict paleo, and it incorporates several principles of Bulletproof. In a typical day, I start with Bulletproof coffee, which is organic coffee blended with grass-fed butter and MCT oil. Except for that and drinking a lot of water, I fast until around 11 a.m. The rest of the time, I eat a ton of vegetables, a lot of healthy fats, and very moderate portions of high-quality protein such as 100% grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and shellfish, eggs from pastured chickens, and, yes, bacon and pork from humanely raised pigs. I don't eat much poultry, mostly because it isn't my favorite and it isn't as nutrient-dense as other animal proteins. I enjoy small portions of fruit, lots of nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters. I'm currently obsessed with pili nuts—the highest-fat, lowest carb nut in the world that is truly so delicious—and fermented foods like kimchi. Plus, I eat a piece of dark chocolate every single day.

Paleo foods

Where I depart from paleo, though, is that I eat a little bit of dairy and some white rice. I've learned a few other places where I can stray—I can have a few chickpeas, oats, and even a little peanut butter once in a while without a problem. I don't indulge too often because I love the other foods I eat so much more, but if there's some hummus around and it feels appealing, I'll have a few bites and be OK.

I don't really miss the foods I've given up, because for one thing, I know I can have them any time. I feel so much better eating this way—it just doesn't feel like a sacrifice. And luckily, there are a lot of paleo products on the market, so I don't have to really go without most of my favorites (hello, Cappello's pizza, Dang coconut bars, Siete Foods tortillas, Mikey's English muffins, and Hu Kitchen chocolate). Plus, it helps that I develop recipes for a living; if there isn't something on the market that I want, I figure out how to make it.

Sometimes, Life Gets in the Way

Eating the way I do is sometimes a hassle, like when I'm traveling or at an event and there aren't any solid options for me to enjoy. Occasionally, I skip eating if I really don't want what's available (now that I'm fat adapted I can do that—it was impossible when I ate less fat and needed to be fed every couple of hours or else); other times I have a small portion of something I wouldn't normally eat and just know I won't feel so great after. I do the latter when it isn't socially acceptable to not eat—if you invite me over for dinner and serve only pasta, for example, I'll have a small portion to be polite. And when I do, I make sure to pay attention while I'm eating and enjoy it for the novelty factor.

One thing to note about paleo, though, is that it's not just about the food. It's a lifestyle that seeks to incorporate some of the habits our ancestors enjoyed, adapted to our modern lifestyle. Sleep, stress management, having strong connections with other people, moving around all day, as well as getting more formal functional exercise—all of these are emphasized in a paleo approach.

My friends and family are mostly very supportive. Of course, there are people who are quick to judge, or who enjoy making fun of me for the way I eat. But the way I look at it, it's just simply not worth my health and quality of life to eat the way I used to. This is what works for me, and I truly believe there isn't one "right" way to eat for everyone. If being vegan or keto or anything else is working for you, then I'm truly glad you've found your path. I'm happily over here on mine.

Beth Lipton
Beth Lipton is a recipe developer and food writer. Read more about Beth