In 2013 Gretchen stood in the E.R. as she was told her gallbladder needed to be removed. In the past, she had suffered from headaches, anxiety, and postpartum depression. When her husband, who had ongoing acid reflux for 10 years, came home one day and said he wanted to try a Whole30, they both jumped in together. Within that first month, they saw such changes they never looked back. Gretchen has lost 30 pounds (oh, and she never had gallbladder surgery), her husband’s acid reflux is gone, and any “aches and pains” that existed disappeared as well.
Gretchen says she will, “preach Paleo to whoever will listen,” and has converted most of her friends to Paleo. I interviewed one of these friends shortly thereafter, whom you will hear from next week. Until then, here’s Gretchen’s story!
How did you find Paleo? Or what inspired you to make this change?
When I was pregnant with my fourth child, I didn’t even know I was pregnant. One night I started having incredible pain. My brother-in-law took me to the hospital, and I can remember telling him, “I would take an epidural if I could.”
The pain turned out to be a gallstone, but at the hospital we also found out I was pregnant. I couldn’t get my gallbladder out while pregnant. I went through my pregnancy, and a friend later sent me an article on the benefits of keeping your gallbladder. That made me start thinking, “Maybe I don’t have to have this out—maybe there’s another way.”
After I had my baby, I couldn’t lose any weight. I literally had a seven pound baby and only lost six pounds. I was really frustrated, and started researching. I thought, “There has to be something that allows us to take charge of our own health.” That was when my husband came to me and said, “I’ve heard of this thing called the Whole30 and I really want to do it.”
I didn’t want to cook two separate meals, so we did the Whole30 together. It was so life changing we decided to keep at it. I had no pain of any kind — no aches, no back pain, it was all gone. He had been on prescriptions for acid reflux for ten years, and after the Whole30 he quit.
Do you have your children on a Paleo diet as well?
When we were on the Whole30, they would eat Paleo during supper. Whatever we were having, they would have. I try to teach them about Paleo, without forcing it on them. They eat Paleo during the week, and on the weekends I give them more leeway. We have “Food Debauchery Fridays,” where they’ll get pizza and snacks. They know my husband and I are Paleo, and they’ll say, “You can’t have that!”
What was your diet like before Paleo?
Five years before this we started eating whole foods. I was reading the book Nourishing Traditions, and read a lot of blogs. I wanted to make things from scratch and eat whole foods. My kitchen counter looked like a science experiment: I made sourdough, yogurt, and cream cheese from scratch. I canned and froze everything, and even had a grain mill where I would grind my own wheat.
Eating whole foods just tasted better. It was incredible. We grew up on boxed and canned everything. I had never even had fresh pineapple before! Whole grains are pushed on a whole foods diet, so I was making a lot of bread. We were tasting food that was good and whole, but still weren’t reaching our goals.
What goals were you trying to reach?
I wanted to lose weight, I wanted to feel better, and I wanted my headaches to go away. My entire life I had never had headaches, then after my third child they wouldn’t go away. I never worked out, never had energy, and was tired by three o’clock. My husband was the same way. We were just surviving, and we didn’t want to just survive.
A lot of people around us also had health issues, and we thought, “There has to be something better than this.” Now, I’ve converted almost 90 percent of my friends to Paleo. I encourage them because I’ve seen so many amazing stories. One of my friends last lost 65 pounds and erased her PCOS. My family, on the other hand, still thinks I’m insane.
What do you do for family holidays?
I bring my own food during Christmas and Thanksgiving. I’ll eat the ham, then make my own Paleo bread and bring sweet potatoes or other side dishes. My family is from the South, so we have mac n’ cheese, mashed potatoes, and starch city. To them it’s very weird, and they’ll ask, “Why not just eat the real thing?”
Did you ever get cravings, or was it hard to give up certain things?
The beginning was the hardest. For as long as I can remember, we had pizza every Friday night. I hated giving up mashed potatoes, but the thing I missed more than anything was dessert. I always felt like I needed something sweet at the end of the day. Now, I’ll have apples and sunbutter. Another go-to is a spoonful of almond butter sprinkled with chocolate chips. I’ve transitioned out of my dessert habit. The things you think you really need, you don’t. You learn to live without them.
How have you helped your friends convert to Paleo?
I started a Facebook group after doing the Whole30. I had lost twenty pounds, but then I was a little stuck. I started doing mini 30 day challenges with myself, and got others onboard. One friend came to me and said, “I’ve gone back to coffee creamer,” so I did a 30 Day Black Coffee Challenge. Others have had a problem snacking before bed. When people aren’t posting, I can tell they’re struggling. I’ll ask questions, they’ll message me, then we’ll start a challenge. We want the accountability.
What tips do you give your group? Or what advice do you have for someone just starting Paleo?
It all depends on your personality. Some people need to be strict; others need a balance. I try to say, “Whenever you’re struggling wondering what you’re going to eat, find a way to make it Paleo.” Even if you’re going to say, Steak-N-Shake, how would you make that Paleo? Take off the bun, and eat with lettuce. Switch to almond butter instead of peanut butter. If you want dessert, make a Paleo dessert. If you fall off the wagon, keep it Paleo as much as you can.
I have several women who work in an office environment, and were really struggling with lunch. I told them about lunch crockpots, which are personal-sized models. One woman takes it to work and plugs it in and her desk. One meal-prep routine I do is “Fill the Grill.” On Sundays, I go and purchase as much protein as I can. We throw all the protein on the grill, then just do sides and salads during the week. For budgeting, we try to get as much organic produce as we can from Aldi — they even have grassfed beef. Sam’s Club has a lot of organic produce, coconut oil, and coconut flour.
Do you have any kid-friendly meal options?
Many times I’ll make waffles on the weekends, and freeze extras. During the week they can just pop them in the toaster. On Sunday, I’ll fry extra bacon and sausage and bake Paleo muffins, so we can just fry eggs during the week. We keep breakfast simple so they can grab and go. For lunch and snacks we’ll do uncured lunch meat, apples, carrots, grapes, or other fresh fruits and veggies. I do buy olive oil and avocado potato chips, gluten-free chicken nuggets, and once in awhile I’ll make Paleo brownies. My kids are home-schooled, so they’re home during the day. They want to participate. My eight-year-old made a menu, then we went grocery shopping together to find the ingredients. She loves that stuff, and thinks it’s fun.
Is there anything you want to leave people with?
If you’re on Paleo to lose weight, you probably won’t last long. If you’re on Paleo to have better health, you’ll last a long time. You’re not going to make it if all you want is to lose 10 pounds — you’ll get bored, and fall off the wagon. It’s just not what this is about.
You need to continue to re-evaluate your goals. If you’re plateauing, you may need to lay off the sweets and waffles. You need to consistently ask questions and make changes. Don’t quit, just re-evaluate so you can move to the next level.
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