For those of you who don’t know my background or why I eat paleo, let first tell you a little bit about myself. If you’ve already heard my story, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.
I started running when I was 11. I think I first ran a 1 mile “fun run” and moved on to a 5K quickly after that. In school I joined the cross country team and after taking a few years off following a couple of knee surgeries (completely unrelated to running), I spent most of my late teens and adult life as a runner. I trained and ran a marathon just to see if I could do it. (I could.) I ran for health, of course, but also for the mental rewards. I loved the quiet peace it brought me where I could run and just check out from my daily stresses. I could listen to my favorite music, come up with new ideas, work through my problems, and get in a work out all at the same time. I ran in every new city I moved to or visited: the San Juan Mountains in Telluride, the hilly streets of San Francisco, the Blue Ridge Parkway through the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains, endless loops around Town Lake Trail in Austin, the list goes on and on. Running was simply part of me.
When I was 27 I started to develop severe knee pain. It would begin in the morning when I woke up and my joints felt like they were on fire. I would limp to work. I would shed tears to get up the stairs to my kitchen I was working in and I would lean on my cutting board and try to lift some of my weight off the ground to take some of the pressure off my knees. I went to an orthopedic doctor and had X-Rays and an MRI. It was very simple: Osteoarthritis. Inflammation in my knees. Ironically it wasn’t from the running, it was more likely from my knee surgeries in my teens. The doctor told me I’d be an ideal candidate for knee replacement surgery when I turned 40. He said I had the knees of a 55 year old. Oh, and I had to quit running.
I went through 3 months of getting steroids and lubricants injected into my knees. This helped with some of the joint point, but not all of it. I also had to take Celebrex which was costing me almost $100 a month with insurance, a huge bill for someone making $12 an hour. But I still wasn’t allowed to run. I was allowed to do yoga, swim, and use the elliptical machine at the gym. And I still had knee pain. Some days I would come home from work and have to ice my knees for the rest of the night. I finally quit my 10 year career of cooking because my knees couldn’t handle it. Goodbye kitchens, goodbye running shoes.
Fast forward two years: I was bored with my work outs, unhappy from not getting the mental stress relief of my long runs (or even a short one!), unhappy with the shape I was in and missing my old life. My husband came home from his Crossfit gym telling me about this paleo diet he heard might improve his athletic performance. He wanted to remove grains, sugar and dairy from his diet. Being the resident cook of the household, I went paleo as well, by default. I had absolutely no expectations- it was just more convenient for both of us to eat the same way and I had hoped I might get lucky and lose 5 pounds. About 6-8 weeks later I was going stir-crazy and I joined his Crossfit gym. I knew my knees were going to hurt and that I would likely need to quit as soon as I started but I was SO bored with my workouts and wanted to try something new. What happened next was astonishing: I had no joint pain after my work out. I had plenty of muscle soreness but absolutely NO pain in my knees. I kept going back thinking “This is going to be the day that my knees give out.” And every day continued to be pain-free. The only thing I had changed was my diet so I started to really research the paleo diet to see if my story was unique. And it wasn’t. Reducing autoimmune and inflammatory diseases is one of the points of the paleo diet. People with arthritis like me, people with M.S., rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, Lupus… they are all changing their own lives as well. Over 3 years of eating paleo have gone by and I have enjoyed life without knee pain almost every day.
This brings us to today. I like to take short runs here and there but I’ve been craving a longer run and secretly afraid my 3+ year bubble of pain-free knees might pop if I started trying long runs.
This morning I ran 5 miles.
The fact that it was the fastest 5 mile run I’ve ever completed isn’t the point. The point is that I did it. The point is that when I finished, my knees felt fantastic and I had a sense of peace in my mind that I’ve been missing since my last 5-mile run almost 7 years ago. The point is that when I finished, I went into work and cooked in my commercial kitchen for another 5 hours with absolutely no discomfort.
The only unpleasant thing I felt was anger that I lost so many years of doing what I love because my doctor didn’t know that food can change your life. It’s really that simple: taking out a few ingredients changed my life. It gave me my life back, actually. And here I am, back in the kitchen, trying to make it a little easier for others to make that change too. It could be arthritis, leaky gut, allergies, M.S.: the possibility of relief is there and it’s real. I hear people call the paleo diet a trend, but regardless of it coming or going, it’s WORKING. And whether you’re wavering on trying it out or if you’re a paleo expert, I hope that Gourmaleo can make living paleo a little easier for you.