Q: What was your attitude to fitness before discovering a Paleo Lifestyle and Fitness?
A: Like so many young people, I used to believe that being fit equated to being healthy. As a university student, I thought that it was possible to compensate for a poorly-adapted lifestyle through exercise and a “healthy” low-fat diet.
Frequent bouts of intense cardio, insufficient rest and a nutritionally void approach to eating caught up with me, and I developed severe pain in my legs and lower back which left me bedridden on the worst days.
Q: That’s terrible. Was is just the rest and nutrition that were causing this pain?
A: No. These symptoms went misdiagnosed by various healthcare professionals for the best part of a year, until a combination of MRI scans and genetic testing revealed that I had ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritic condition which causes inflammation of the spine and – if not properly managed – leads to fusion of the vertebrae.
Q: What effect did that have on you?
A: I became frightened at the prospect of losing my mobility and frustrated at myself for having aggravated the condition through what I thought were health-conscious lifestyle choices. I was forced to re-evaluate what I thought I knew about my body.
Chronic conditions – particularly those with few or no visible symptoms – have an uncanny way of isolating the sufferer. Because I looked normal, few people understood why I was so fatigued and withdrawn.
The anti inflammatory drugs I was prescribed would lessen the pain, but were accompanied by unpleasant side effects such as indigestion, heartburn and nausea and carried the potential to damage my digestive system in the long term. I wanted desperately to stop taking them and regain my health sovereignty and independence, but found that I’d be back in agony after going without them for just a single day.
Q: Especially after trying out conventional thinking on following a healthy lifestyle, the only alternative given was to maintain your medication to become pain free. Was that a low point for you?
A: While I was grateful for the privilege of access to healthcare, I was disappointed with the treatment I’d received. It seemed to me that medicine in the U.K. emphasises cure over prevention, only ever looking at a set of symptoms in isolation and focusing on the treatment rather than the patient. My consultations were brief and infrequent, and at no point did I feel as though I was engaged in a therapeutic partnership with the healthcare professionals I saw.
I had been told by doctors, nurses and physiotherapists that careful management of my symptoms through medication was the best that I could hope to achieve, yet something about this message didn’t sit right with me. If autoimmunity was the result of a combination of genetic and environmental components, surely we have some control over its manifestation?
Q: Sounds like a familiar journey. What actions did you take on your path to better health?
A: I began trawling through books, blogs and the scientific literature, and discovered that there existed plenty of evidence that factors such as diet, emotional stressors, circadian rhythm and movement patterns that are influential to autoimmunity. I learned of how many people had been able to beat their chronic conditions into remission by following ancestral health practices which help to overcome problems introduced by modern living.
Considering the progress I’d made, I was puzzled as to why medical professionals don’t speak out more about the benefits of lifestyle modification for chronic illness. Through a lot of reading, listening, participation and self-experimentation, I’ve found a way of living through Paleo principles that makes me feel stronger, healthier and more vibrant than I ever have before.
Wanting to meet others who had done the same, I became active in my community and started to host Meetup events attended by individuals who pursue ancestral health. At times, addressing my health problem felt like solving a picture puzzle; as I ”tuned in” the various components of my lifestyle, I started to see more of the big picture and began to feel better. Getting any one of them right in isolation – while a step in the right direction – was not enough.
Q: So what bring’s you to HEALTH Unplugged this year?
A: I’m looking forward to the year’s HEALTH Unplugged not just because of the wealth of expertise shared by the presenters, but also because of the opportunity for bonding and the exchange of thought and experience that such events provide.
Personal stories have the power to inspire, and valuable insight can be gained from hearing about the paths trodden by others on their own health journeys. Our health behaviours and happiness are strongly influenced by the company we keep. Without a sympathetic and understanding network of friends, family and colleagues, I may have never implemented the lifestyle changes that allowed me to take control of my autoimmunity or gained the confidence in my ability to offer support to others.
Q: Any last thoughts?
A: The online community has been an excellent source of information and support when I’ve needed it the most, but it’s through real-life encounters that I’ve gotten to know some inspiring people and made friends I hope to keep for life.
You never walk alone in the Paleo community.
You can read more about Rich’s story on his blog