For Ryan Brady, switching to a Paleo Diet was a desperation move.
In college, she was diagnosed with Lyme disease, and a side effect was feeling seriously tired. Plus, despite already avoiding gluten and dairy, she was fighting bad inflammation. When her doctor recommended she go Paleo this past summer, it was a no-brainer—and Brady started filling up on greens and meat.
She didn’t, however, get the result she was expecting. “I did have more energy and slept better, but I started having so many digestive problems,” says Brady (who’s now Well+Good’s marketing and events coordinator). “I was bloated all the time and had gas pains—my stomach felt really blown up. I was miserable.” Still, she stuck with it, thinking maybe it was just the transition and that her body would eventually embrace her new Paleo eating habits. But a month later, she was still having major issues.
“I put all my eggs in the Paleo basket and thought it was the solution, but ultimately, it was still a way for me to not look at the stress in my life.”
Frustrated, she called her cousin, who was in grad school to become a nutritionist, Brady explains. “She went Paleo and actually experienced the same exact symptoms as me. My cousin told me to start adding rice and some other non-Paleo foods back into my diet—and honestly, the day I did, I immediately felt better.”
Brady and her cousin aren’t the only people who have experienced digestive distress after nixing grains, legumes, and other simple staples. Emotional and disordered eating coach and Kundalini Yoga teacher Ashlee Davis experienced something similar—despite having studied nutrition and knowing the Paleo Diet can and does work for many people.
Why is the Paleo Diet so successful for some people and not for others? Keep reading for three reasons how it can make you sick.
1. You’re eating too many raw veggies
First things first: Going Paleo can be awesome for a lot of people. “The Paleo Diet is healthy and can really show people how carbs, sugar, and processed foods negatively impact the body,” Davis says.
The problem? An overnight switch to mostly raw vegetables and meat (which is healthier but harder for the body to process) can overload the digestive system, something Davis has seen in several of her clients. Her tip: Ease into it with softer, cooked vegetables—like sweet potatoes—instead of filling up on raw salads every meal.
2. You’re eating healthy foods that just don’t agree with your body
But what if, like Brady experienced, the transition isn’t the problem? “You still have to be mindful about what you’re putting in your body,” Davis says. “Some people on the Paleo Diet might not eat eggs because they irritate their stomach. Other people may eat a lot of eggs and fish, but it’s red meat that’s difficult on their digestive system. You still have to notice how what you put into your body affects you—that’s true of any eating plan.”
After all, if there was one perfect diet that worked for everyone, gut health wouldn’t be such a trending topic. Davis says the key is taking the time to pinpoint which foods don’t agree with your body; once you figure out your triggers, you can modify your diet so you’re still eating Paleo—with a few tweaks.
3. You’re way too stressed out
The mind-gut connection is no joke. “I shifted to Paleo because I thought it would help with chronic fatigue, stress, and digestive problems I was experiencing,” Davis says. “It felt really great at first. Cutting back on carbs and sugar made me feel less jittery.”
But her digestive drama didn’t go away. Why? She was completely stressed out and it was manifesting itself in her gut. “I put all my eggs in the Paleo basket and thought it was the solution, but ultimately, it was still a way for me to avoid looking at the stress in my life,” she says.
If you eat when you’re anxious—no matter what you’re eating—it can cause any number of digestive problems. “The gut can be a representation of what’s going on mentally and emotionally,” Davis says. “For someone who is dealing with chronic digestion problems, I would venture to say there is most likely something they are not digesting—AKA processing—in their life.”
When it comes to experimenting with different eating plans—whether it be Paleo, veganism, Whole30, or something else—what’s key, according to Davis, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all plan. “The most important thing you can do is listen to your body—and yourself,” she says. “For some people, that might mean leaning toward a vegetarian or vegan diet. We all know whole foods—especially fruits and vegetables—improve our health, but it’s important to be open to the idea that a pre-determined diet or eating style might not be the entire solution to your health issues.”
Speaking of eating habits, why is it that so many women seem to have a problem with red meat? And if you’re dealing with bloat on a regular basis, FODMAP foods might be to blame.