Navigating Health and Performance Failures on A Paleo Diet: We’re Only Human


Screen-Shot-2012-10-03-at-4.14.12-PM1-241x300.pngA friend came over last night for our weekly game night and said to me, “Neely, I saw your Facebook post about you having food poisoning… It doesn’t look so good when you have a food website and you get food poisoning.”

Or something along those lines. To which I fumed, “I never said my health was perfect.” (Because that was the best I could do?)

Seriously, am I supposed to transcend all health maladies just because I improved my diet 30 years into my malnourished life? Should I be impervious to all food-borne pathogens because I’m Paleo? No, I think that’s ridiculous and I don’t like being held to that impossible standard by others or myself. I realize my sometimes asshole-ish friend was sort of kidding, but still.

To tell you the truth, I was scared to post on Facebook that I had food poisoning for that very reason – that people would judge me. “Why’s she sick if she supposedly has this perfect diet and makes her living writing about it?” You know what? I also got a cold before my wedding this summer, and I was embarrassed about that, too. I’m not supposed to get sick – my health should be perfect…

I’d love to be one of those people who goes Paleo after decades of eating shit and three weeks later writes in to some Paleo blogger that their migraines are gone, they’ve lost 150 pounds, they’ve never had so much energy in their life, they’re pregnant after being infertile for 20 years, and there’s no sign of their debilitating multiple sclerosis. Amazing.

Those stories seem to permeate the Paleosphere, including this website. And I am beyond psyched for those people; they make me want to brave the naysayers every day. But those testimonials also create ridiculous expectations for everyone else who’s either on the Paleo diet or knows somebody who is. It’s a license to compare and judge yourself and others. I think we all have enough ammo to judge as it is without throwing miraculous healings into the mix, don’t we?

Yes, Paleo certainly helped me, like I said. I wouldn’t be such an evangelist had it not. But as you can see by my blog post about my $1500 worth of lab testing, I’ve still got stuff going on that Paleo hasn’t been able to touch. And I am pre-tty freaking Paleo…

Speaking of failure, I’m not as strong as I’d like to be either, despite my ostensibly magical diet. I got on the same rock climb 3 days a week July through September of this year and failed to complete it successfully. I had to walk away from it last week because I decided it had made me cry one too many times. It was something I’d sincerely hoped to accomplish, and I failed. I’ll go back to it next year, but for now I’m just not strong enough, even though I adhere strictly to this diet full of muscle-promoting protein, good fats, and highly nutrient dense foods. It was supposed to be enough to make me strong! It’s sort of embarrassing to fail miserably in this sport of strength when I’m so highly associated with Paleo – the diet that creates big muscles (and healthy bowel movements).

I managed to NOT fall off this one.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to stop eating the way I do. The fact is that I’m much healthier now that I don’t eat the foods I used to. I am, in fact, stronger than I used to be. My skin is healthier, my bowels are happier, and I’m happier, too. I’ll never go back. But I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people with perfect health on paper or off. I spent too many years mussing it all up for that. I’m ok with that. I know it will continue to get better, and having symptoms of my own makes me a) human and b) continue to learn so I can keep helping people with their own health.

And while I feel dejected when an ultimately pointless rock climb spits me off its face again and again, I do know that it’s not all about brute strength up there. I’ve never claimed to have unfailing confidence or the most positive mental attitude, and those things are half the battle in climbing, or any sport for that matter. I’ll do that dumb route next year. I just have to keep training, keep working on my head, and keep eating right.

But mostly I have to keep reminding myself that I’m only human and that this diet isn’t some elixir for supernatural vitality and burl. Paleo, in all its forms, is just the recipe for historically normal human health and strength, and even normal people get food poisoning and fall off rocks…