I Wish I Could Be Primal

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I Wish I Could Be Primal | Phoenix Helix

Primal: adjective [prīməl]: Meaning – essential, fundamental, relating to an early stage in evolutionary development, primeval. Or in the paleo community – Mark Sisson’s 80/20 rule.

Am I primal? It would be nice to think I’m essential to people who love me, and that I live by certain fundamentals, and who doesn’t love to get in touch with their inner child or howl at the moon? But that last one, the 80/20 rule, is what I covet, and what I can’t have.  What is it, you ask? It simply means that you follow the rules of the paleo diet 80% of the time, and indulge as you see fit with the other 20%. Oh, I’m closing my eyes, imagining that. How wonderful that would be! Dinner with friends? No problem. Not only can they pick the restaurant, they can order for me! Office potluck? Check it out – I can graze instead of eating only the food I brought with me. Popcorn at the movies? Cheese at a wine tasting? Mom’s apple pie? Sign me up!

Sure, Mark, Melissa & Dallas will say to choose that 20% wisely. Have one of your Grandma’s brownies, but not the food-coloring-laden birthday cake at the office. When you vacation in Mexico, indulge in the local cuisine, but avoid Taco Bell when you’re back home. Really, are those tough choices? Please! I’m envious, people!

It Ain’t Easy Being Perfect

In the paleo community, people talk of paleo perfectionism as a bad thing, but when you have an autoimmune disease, 80/20 doesn’t work. If I indulge, my reward is severe pain. So, lucky me has to shoot for that perfection, and not only that, I have a  few added restrictions compliments of the autoimmune protocol. Welcome to my life.

So, what do I do? Every once in a while, a girl needs to have a “Poor Baby” party, and I guess this blog post is an online version of that. But mostly, I suck it up, and feel grateful that there’s a dietary solution to my pain and a healthy outlet for my inner perfectionist. I enjoy the food I can eat, and feel grateful that I love to cook. I savor the taste of my curried chicken salad. The fact that the mayo, curry powder and mango chutney all had to be homemade doubled the preparation time, but it also amplified the taste, so it was the best chicken salad I’ve ever eaten. I have fun flavoring my homemade kombucha, so this fermented health beverage isn’t just good for me, it’s also a treat. I make kick-ass herbed burger patties, so I don’t miss ketchup or the bun. I start my day with homemade chicken soup, and get a daily dose of nurturing that people usually only experience when they’re sick. I’m mastering the art of coconut flour baking, so I don’t need to live a puritan life altogether. Honestly, I could keep this list going for hours. What’s on the menu for this weekend? Roast pork with onion and apple gravy. What’s my new favorite side dish: winter veggies in spiced coconut milk. Seriously, you wish you ate at my house now, don’t you? So long as you can smuggle in your (insert favorite indulgence here).

The truth is, I eat better now than I ever have, not only in terms of health, but in terms of flavor. The cravings I used to have are gone. Can you believe I used to stop at gas stations to buy Diet Coke and Hostess Zingers? Doesn’t that food paragraph above sound much better? My palate thanks me.

That said, there is one thing I do miss, and I think anyone on a strict diet due to their health would agree with me. I miss the convenience. The ease of choosing anything on a menu, the joy of being the low-maintenance dinner guest who will eat anything, the bliss of enjoying social connections over food without needing an almost military level of planning in advance. (Thank god I have understanding family and friends.)

So, for the 80/20 community out there, enjoy your 20% (I know I would), but if I make a face and stick my tongue out when I see those instagram photos (like the ones from PaleoFX where you’re eating tacos one minute and ice cream the next), know that I love you anyway, and sticking my tongue out is just me expressing my primal self. And isn’t that the point? Hooooowwwwwl!!

AIP Series

I’ve written a series of articles to guide you through the autoimmune protocol, step by step. It includes FAQ, mistakes to avoid, book reviews, and more. Click here to see the whole list.

This post is linked to the following blog carnivals:
Fresh Bites Friday, Whole Food Friday, Sunday School, Natural Living Monday, Make Your Own Monday, Fat Tuesday, Healthy Tuesday, Family Table Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Tuned In Tuesday, Well Fed Wednesday, Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Wheat Free Wednesday, Gluten Free Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Tasty Traditions, Thank Your Body Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Allergy Friendly Lunchbox, Paleo Rodeo,

I Wish I Could Be Primal | Phoenix Helix
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53 thoughts on “I Wish I Could Be Primal

  1. I can relate, not for myself but for my 15 year old dd. Teenage years are a tough time to be so restricted in diet but she is learning to do much of her own cooking and finding great recipes. Last night she found a wonderful no bake cookie recipe that was GAPS legal and it tasted awesome. She shared it with all of us in the family.

    • Jennifer, I’m so impressed with your daughter! I think it’s got to be even harder at that age, so the fact that she’s embracing it and making it delicious, is awesome.

  2. I applaud your courage and honesty for posting this. Your descriptions of what it’s like to eat this way–and how others frequently don’t get it–are so spot-on. I, too, am grateful every day that I love to cook. Yet, even so, some days, I just want a grab-and-go treat–that I didn’t have to make myself, or didn’t cost a Queen’s ransom!

  3. Thank you so much for your post. I was diagnosed as a teenager with allergies to so many of the foods, which effectively left me with a paleo diet, before I’d heard of it. I resisted it so much, and kept thinking I could get away with bits (the 80/20) thing… but couldn’t really. for me it results in asthma, but also ME type symptoms. Finally, 20 or so years later, I’m learning to accept my body, and feed it the food that helps it to be healthy, or as healthy as it can be. as you say, it is the lack of convenience that I find hard, and sometimes whinge about! But it’s great finding online encouragement, and blogs like yours to realise that we’re not alone! And it’s worth it to be as well as we can be!

  4. Eileen, thank you so much for writing and sharing your thoughts. It’s been very challenging to have such a strict diet with my less than stellar cooking skills and eating out is not an option. I thought I was alone in my pity parties and longing to just eat something from a concession stand. I’d love to eat whatever I wanted but one tiny piece of gluten can set me back for months. It’s not worth it but a girl can dream of better auto-immune options. Be well!

  5. Thanks for this post – made me feel I am not alone!! I keep trying to have some cream (raw) in my coffee once a week instead of every day, but I still have a reaction! It really is frustrating to have to accept that at least for a while, my favorite treat is obviously off limits!! Your post so encouraged me – thank you!

  6. Thank you all for joining this conversation. Your comments let me know that I’m not alone, too, and it warms my heart to be part of such a strong community. You all encourage me, as much as I encourage you!

  7. GREAT post! I am in the same boat as you too — having an autoimmune disease forces you to strive for 100%, because we both know the consequences when we don’t! Sometimes I miss the ease of the 80/20 rule, but we each have our own path and we must play the hand we are dealt with. I have become very creative with figuring out “cheat” foods that are w/in my limited dietary options! 🙂

  8. Eileen, I just found your blog and read this post. I also have RA and have found significant improvements since switching to a primal/paleo diet. I haven’t completely adopted the autoimmune protocol, but have removed all grains (incl corn), legumes (incl soy and peanuts), nightshades (excl the occasional salsa), and dairy. When I am fully committed, I feel great. Occasionally I remind myself that sugar is bad for me (by eating it!). It’s not super easy, but it’s not super hard either. I managed to plan my meals & grocery shop on Saturdays for the week & then am lucky to have a husband to make our suppers through the week. After dealing with days/months/years of unceasing pain, fatigue and depression, I feel better than I did before RA. I should say though, that I am also taking Humira and MTX (though I have managed to reduce the MTX to my “starter” dose, and am hoping to rid myself of it altogether). The Humira was a Godsend, so I’m not ready to commit to a 100% diet solution to my RA. Feeling good just feels so darned good! 🙂

    • “Feeling good just feels so darned good!” I couldn’t agree more! There’s no “one size fits all” way to go. I’m so glad you found a combination that works for you. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Oh how I can relate. We are grateful for our ability to manage disease through diet, yet every once in a while it would be nice to throw a big old temper tantrum. I want to go out to eat, but even if it’s gluten free, there’s dairy, and corn, and tomatoes and potatoes, etc, etc, etc… I will end up getting sick. It’s a given.

    Thank you for writing this. It’s wonderful to connect with others in similar situations – and to ultimately know we’re not alone.

  10. This is so well said. When I was healing myself from IBS I was on a militant version of the Paleo diet (I couldn’t have nuts) and there were no option of cheating. It wasn’t fun but I was also thankful to finally find something that worked so well. This was 8 years ago before Paleo was popular so I was quite alone in my strange diet. But I owe my health to it today.

    • Angela, it’s awesome that you knew what to do back then! I think if I was diagnosed 8 years ago, I would have traversed regular medical channels for a while before finding my way here. I’m so grateful for the knowledge that’s now available (if we look for it). You were a trailblazer!

  11. Well said! I really miss the convenience of “quick” foods also. Although I don’t have any severe conditions that I am treating with food, I have found that I just feel better, and so does my 4 year old, when we aren’t eating processed foods (even if those foods are “healthy”).

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  13. I so feel your pain! I am on a modified AIP too. I can’t eat nuts, coconut flower, eggs, grains, legumes, etc. without getting terribly sick. I miss being able to eat on a small budget! No matter what I try my family of 4 can not eat for less than $700 a month, and that is when everyone else is eating properly prepared oatmeal, muffins, or other things I can’t eat. I also miss being able to eat out with friends. Thankfully I have found some local places that embrace “gluten free” as a lifestyle and don’t just replace regular food with “gluten free” junk, but instead offer truly good whole foods made in a clean environment. That being said they aren’t that inexpensive.

    Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday! You are not alone!

    • Amanda, I’m jealous of your local restaurants! The ones here try, but don’t often succeed at really understanding what gluten-free means (never mind nightshade-free which is its own challenge.) I’m traveling next month, bringing most of my food with me, but will be eating at a restaurant once/day while on the road. My plan is to simply order unseasoned meat and veggies, and bring in my own spice blends to make them tasty. I made the mistake of researching cool local restaurants on the road ahead of time. There are some great ones (excellent chefs, organic ingredients) and the menus looked so creative and fabulous they made my mouth water, but all the dishes contained foods I couldn’t eat. Again, I’m so thankful I can create delicious food at home. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  15. It’s hard not to have a pity party when you look at the list of things we must avoid on the AIP, but now that I’m feeling better (six months on), I look back at that list and it looks like poison to me! Negative reinforcement really works – I would rather skip the ice cream than spend the night in the bathroom 🙂 Thanks for this post – it’s so great to know I’m not alone.

    • Have you been on the AIP for 6 months? We must have started around the same time. I hear you on the poison reference. We have a family reunion in the summer, which usually involves a lot of junk food. This year, I’m bringing my own food with me, and my family was worried I’d feel bad watching them eat. But the processed stuff they eat doesn’t appeal to me at all anymore; I don’t even see it as food. It’s hard to believe I used to eat that way. Now, fresh summer tomatoes? That, I miss! Thankfully, I can enjoy the watermelon instead.

  16. I can TOTALLY identify with this post. I am new to blogging and it is amazing to read all of the stories like this. It truly makes me feel like I am not alone in this journey! A year ago I did a cleanse. When I started to introduce dairy and gluten back into my diet, I had SEVERE inflammatory reactions. I didn’t understand what was going on for a long time. I finally went to go see a nutritionist and now I am eating paleo. It has changed my life! I feel better than ever but it is hard when you want a “cheat day” but you know that you can’t eat like you used to. Thank you for sharing!

    • Erin, I just checked out your blog and saw your post on eating out. I love that you bring your own grain-free tortillas to Mexican restaurants. How creative!

      • Thanks for visiting my blog! I get asked all the time “what do you do when you go out to eat?!” We live near Houston, so Mexican food/coconut flour tortillas are a staple at our house! Yum!

          • Hi Heather!
            I think I am already a part of those meet up groups!! We were signed up to go to the Snap Kitchen meeting but ended up not being able to go. I’ll have to go to another event soon! Hopefully I’ll see you there!
            Erin 🙂

  17. I feel your pain. I’m more like 90 – 95% paleo. I cannot do dairy at all, or soy, or legumes or seeds. They all make me ill. I can’t do sugar either, but 3 times a year I make a birthday cake (gluten-dairy-soy-free) for each member of my family and end up eating a slice or two (its so hard not to!). I end up not feeling good afterwards. (Maybe that’s like 1%?). Sometimes I have some blue corn chips only because they are a great way to soak up guacamole, or some rice crackers because they’re great with liver pate (Maybe that’s 2%?). As for the other 5-7% (alcohol), I actually don’t have any bad reactions to it, and it actually makes me feel good. But it isn’t in the paleo/primal description. Is it? Anyway, its hard to strike a balance, but if a food makes me feel ill, I don’t want to have anything to do with it! I’d love to find a way to great birthday cakes and crackers that I can eat, because, as you say, convenience does still play some part of a role.

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  19. I have been Primal since 2009, but debilitating fatigue, hives and intermittent joint pain, fatigue, aches mixed with puffiness and moodiness and did I mention I super crazy tired? The ability to gain weight and not lose it. Oh and some brain fog led me on a 5 year long and on going search for answers and failure to find them has dropped me into the lap of the CrossFit, Whole 30, Primal, Paleo, and finally Auto Immune Protocol family. Been on AIP for 30 days today and the results are….not…in? Thyroid antibodies leveled, no markers for them in recent blood work. That’s good right? Doctor scratches her head when I say, why and I still suffering with intermittent hives? Why am I still needing two sometimes three naps a day? How come I am losing a full brush full of hair daily? Her response? Lets try some claritin and see how that works because I have no explanation….


    Mostly, I wanted to commiserate with you on this post and tell you that I am generally very grateful for the knowledge that I have attained and I look forward to being like you when I grow up, in the sense that when by two boys are in college in 9 years, I will go back for my masters and even if I haven’t unlocked the mystery behind my symptomology I believe I can help other people feel better.

    So thank you. You. Rock.

    • Hang in there, Cassandra. It often takes a few months to start feeling the reversal of thyroid symptoms. If your antibodies have leveled, you’re on your way! In the meantime, I’m sending a gentle hug your way.

  20. Hi Eileen, Your site and posts are so wonderful. Thanks for all you are doing. If you can imagine a scenario worse than 100%, consider those of us whose guts are so destroyed we have to avoid FODMAPs as well. I can forego the tomato, but the onions and garlic and apple too? That’s bad. Hopefully I will recover from SIBO and be able to incorporate some of those healthy foods at some point in the not too distant future.

    • Jennifer – I had to avoid FODMAPs for nearly a year and I can now eat apples, onions and garlic with gay abandon in the AIP! I got rid of SIBO too! So keep going 😀 Hardest thing I’ve ever done though, AIP felt like a party in comparison ^_^ (or maybe I was just so used to restricting by then!) Been AIP since last August and slowly adding so many things in! I’m like you but (hopefully only) a year ahead <3

      • Dani, thanks for sharing your success. I agree that SIBO can be healed, so hold onto that hope, Jennifer! Thank you both for sharing your experience.

  21. I wouldn’t even want to be 80/20, I’d be thrilled just to follow a strict primal template lol! Being surrounded by a primal eating family is tough sometimes. I stare longingly at my daughter’s grassfed Dubliner cheese and steal whiffs of my husband’s coffee after it is ground. Sometimes I have a little pity party, but yes you’ve got to suck it up and keep on going! I learned after many mis-steps along the way, “just one bite” didn’t fly with me. I’m relishing in the few successful reintros I have under my belt and staying the course 🙂

  22. I know!!! I have had friends complain to me about being gluten free!!! (I can’t help but think, “the nerve, to bitch to me about simply not being able to eat gluten! Seriously?!?! Bitch to someone else!) I wish all I had to avoid was gluten! But remember you are so fortunate to have supportive family and friends though!!! I can’t even tell my family about AIP, which makes me feel like I’m living a secret double life, so we really just don’t talk anymore. Oh, except I did try to talk about it to my brother who limps from MS, and he didn’t want to hear it At All. He wants the junk food and the medication. And I have to accept that along with many other things that seem difficult to accept. Many of my “friends” (the few who didn’t just completely abandon me when my health started tanking) won’t even attempt to eat with me. And I’m single, so when I imagine trying to explain my diet/lifestyle to a date I think, mmmm…maybe not. Staying home alone cooking is not exactly the single lifestyle one would dream of! And I live in the South right now where pretty much everyone who does know about my diet thinks I’m just batshit crazy and makes fun of me! (So supportive!) Oh but I dream to live out west where everything isn’t breaded and deep fried and I could probably eat out some and be somewhat more accepted! (Or at least that’s my fantasy.) I definitely have some pity parties and feel plenty sorry for myself and want to give up sometimes! And yet (most of the time) I keep on trying to stay positive and soldier on and live like a warrior….

  23. You know what sucks? I can’t do coconut milk. Every time I have it it’s an automatic 2 pounds over night weight gain, sane with dairy and cafo eggs. It’s hard to be aip without coconut milk.

  24. I absolutely loved this article. That 20% doesn’t work for me either. When I go out to a restaurant (a rare occasion, but sometimes unavoidable) I look at the menu not as a plethora of tasty treats from which to choose, but a veritable land mine. I try my best to ascertain which item is safe and sometimes there is absolutely nothing. It makes me frustrated sometimes, this not being “normal.” In the past I used to cave in and just order something and then be terribly sick for days from the canola oil. I don’t do that anymore and it takes me longer to order than most, but I’m fine being the last one at the table to order, even if the only resort is a salad with no dressing because everything else will take me out. Thanks for posting. It’s easy to feel isolated when you have an autoimmune disorder.

  25. Great article. Funnily enough, when I saw the title I thought, “ahh Primal, wouldn’t that be a dream to go back to!” I was Primal for 5 years until purchasing your book and now AIP for 7 months and really, there is no way I would go back, AIP has been life changing for my depression. I was still having joint pain until I read an article on Paleomom last week about nutritional yeast being an issue so I’ve cut it out and woke up today feeling like I could take on the world. Have you heard of problems with nutrition yeast?

    • Susan, I hear you! While I envy the freedom of the 80/20 crowd, I’m very grateful for how good I feel now, so I wouldn’t go back either. Regarding nutritional yeast, Sarah Ballantyne (aka The Paleo Mom) allows it on the AIP because most people can eat it with no problems. However, some people find they have a yeast sensitivity. Do you know if you respond positively or negatively to fermented foods and drinks? Since they have yeast too, that could help you determine if yeast as a category is a problem for you. Another potential issue though is when nutritional yeast has folic acid added (which is commonly done for some reason). People with MTHFR mutations (which are common in the autoimmune community) often have trouble processing folic acid, so that could be the issue, too. You’re in the advanced troubleshooting phase of your journey now. I’m so glad you found this piece to your personal healing puzzle.

      • Thanks so much for this info! I am now exploring MTHFR mutations, so much to learn, but so exciting that I can now pinpoint certain foods after being AIP for a while. I’ve been making fermented food and drink for a few years so that is something I will keep an eye on. Thanks for your help, there are limited places for questions like these and we are all so grateful you are willing to answer them

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