I’ve been a vegetarian for the last 23 years, convinced that eating a vegetable-based diet was good for my health. The irony is that I’ve been far from healthy. I’ve always known diet plays a major role in how I feel, but I never connected the vegetarian diet I was following with the problems I was having.
Eight years after becoming vegetarian, I was diagnosed with a B12 deficiency. I asked the doctor what I should do.
“Eat meat,” she said. I was offended and didn’t listen. I started taking a B12 supplement and considered the problem solved.
In the fall of 2006, I was put on disability by my doctor. The diagnosis was depression, but the main symptom was constant exhaustion. I couldn’t work a 40-hour week. After three months, I wasn’t any better and my employer let me go. Fortunately, my husband can and has supported me since, allowing me to focus on getting my energy back.
I’ve made lots of positive changes over the years, cutting out sugar and caffeine, adding eggs and fish. The most significant improvement came when I went gluten free. After just three days, I was waking up early instead of struggling to wake up at all.
In the summer of 2012, I saw a nutritionist. I told her why I was gluten free.
She said, “Going grain free will help even more.”
I didn’t believe her, but I did follow the food plan she gave me, which was lower in carbohydrates and increased protein and fat, and things got better. I also tried using supplements, but they caused strange side effects. I went back to a diet-only approach and tried to be patient.
This May, I was reading my journal and noticed that every entry started with a complaint about being tired. I got angry, because this had been going on for so long.
Then a good friend who has an autoimmune disease and understands my frustration said the words that changed my life.
“Maybe you need to be eating meat.”
Advice that had fallen on deaf ears in the past got a hearing at last. I was fed up with my constant fatigue, frustrated that medical solutions weren’t working for me, and just plain desperate to be healthy again.
“I’ll think about it,” I said, and I did. I talked with friends who had made the change. I read posts online. I read Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet and Robb Wolf’s personal story in The Paleo Solution.
Cordain’s arguments helped me rationalize trying a paleo diet. He suggested the changes I had dismissed in the past: Eat lean meat. Don’t eat grains. The list of promised improvements matched my list of health problems almost perfectly.
In June, I wrote:
I love animals and think going back to eating them would be challenging, but I would make the change in a hot second if it meant better health and more energy. I know my number one priority is health because I have to have health before I can really have or enjoy anything else in this world.
I decided to try it, just as an experiment. I began eating meat again, and I gave up foods that had been my staples for years: dairy products, grains, and legumes.
And it’s worked.
I am healthier, much more like a normal person that I have been in a decade. Exercising is easier, I sleep better, I have more energy. I can now do in a day what it used to take me a week to accomplish, and when I wake up the next morning, I am not exhausted but ready for another busy day.
What did it take to get to this place? Years of suffering, years of struggle, years of searching for the right answer. In a word: desperation.
But the real key was listening to what people were telling me and allow that they might be right, and I might be wrong.
Further reading for those who are interested in some of the arguments that convinced me to give the paleo approach a try:
Why going from vegetarian to paleo works (it’s as much about giving up the grains as eating the meat)
The story of a vegan with long-term health problems much more severe than mine who healed herself through diet