Tammy Jackson swears she hasn't blown her nose in seven months. The credit, she said, goes to a change in diet.
Jackson and her boyfriend, Will Poole, started the Paleo diet in an effort to help Poole deal with Type I diabetes.
The Paleo diet eliminates processed foods and focuses on hunter-gatherer foods, much like cavemen would have eaten during the Paleolithic era. The philosophy is centered on the theory that our bodies respond best to food that is, and has been for thousands of years, naturally available to us.
Breads, cereals, potatoes, legumes and dairy products are prohibited in the strictest versions of the diet. Jackson and Poole have adapted their diets to include more meats, vegetables and nuts.
And eggs, Jackson said. "We eat a lot of eggs."
Jackson and Poole are convinced that the Paleo diet has improved their health.
Before the Paleo diet, Poole's food choices were adversely affecting his health.
"I didn't do a good job," he said. His idea of managing his diabetes well was, "I wasn't having to have to go to the ER on regular basis."
"Will's diet was a big concern of mine," Jackson said. "He ate anything. He would eat food that would spike his blood sugar and then treat it with insulin."
Since starting the diet, Poole has lost about 32 pounds, his acid reflux has disappeared and he has reduced his insulin use by 60 to 75 percent, he said.
Jackson, who competes for the Cape Fear Roller Girls roller derby squad under the alias Violet Outlaw, said she's seen results, too.
After tearing her left ACL in December 2010, Jackson "got surgery, sat around and gained some weight." But after three months on the Paleo diet, she'd lost 20 pounds. Recently, she skated through a triple-header with her teammates and expected the inevitable muscle soreness to creep in the next day.
But it didn't.
"One thing I've noticed with Paleo is that my muscles recover much better," Jackson said. After a bout, "I expect to be sore. It just never happens."
Some folks aren't convinced that the Paleo diet is a life-changing experience.
In a study of 24 diets, U.S. News and World Reports ranked the Paleo diet 24th. The study based its results on the following criteria: "easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and against diabetes and heart disease."
The DASH Diet and the TLC Diet were the top two, closely followed by the Mayo Clinic Diet, the Mediterranean Diet and Weight Watchers.
Courtney Simmons, the campus dietitian at University of North Carolina Wilmington, said some of the students on campus are enrolled in the CrossFit exercise program, which encourages the adoption of the Paleo diet.
"I think the basics of it are great," Simmons said. She likes that the diet promotes the elimination of processed foods and that it encourages eating fruits and vegetables.
Her concern is the lack of grain and dairy.
"Both are important if you're getting the right types," she said.
The Paleo diet is a good alternative to an undisciplined everyday diet, she said.
"I think anyone who is eating the typical American diet and switches to the Paleo Diet, yes, they will lose weight," Simmons said.
On occasions, Poole and Jackson can't control what food is prepared for them.
When they attend a cookout, baby shower or a wedding reception, it's unrealistic to bring entire meals for themselves.
"Those tend to be cheat days," Jackson said. And that hurts on two levels. "Not only are we cheating and feeling bad about it, but we feel physically bad."
Poole said he recently attended a wedding in Charlotte where the menu was out of his control.
"(Cheating) does two things," he said. "It gets it out of your system and it reminds you why you eat this way in the first place. It's like somebody who drinks too much. You swear you're never going to do it again."
Friends and family are generally understanding of Poole's diets. Even his mother, who raised him on biscuits, gravy and mashed potatoes, serves him meat and vegetables when he visits.
Jackson and Poole don't deny that their grocery bill has gone up since they started Paleo. Organic meat and fresh vegetables cost more than a box of macaroni and cheese. But Jackson and Poole say the benefits outweigh the cost.
"It costs more than bags of chicken nuggets and stuff we would have eaten," Jackson said, "but we're eating out a lot less."
"There are so few restaurant and fast-food options, you virtually cut them out of your life," Poole said.
He has always liked to cook, so he saw Paleo cooking more as a challenge than a chore.
"It does take some effort," he said. "If you are used to eating everything out of the freezer or pantry, it does take some adjusting."
Even though the new regimen requires more time and money, after each meal, Poole feels satisfied.
"I've never eaten better and more than I have on this diet," Poole said.
Jackson's favorite meal is a combination of ground turkey, bacon and onion with fingerling sweet potatoes. Poole loves to grill a slab of beef ribs with bacon wrapped around it. He adds a side of mashed cauliflower to complete one of his favorite meals.
Jackson has three boys, ages 6, 9 and 12. They bemoan the limited beverage options at their mom's house. And their mom cringes when she feeds them processed food that she no longer eats.
Though she's not as strict with the boys as she is with her own regimen, she takes pride in some changes that go completely unnoticed by the boys.
"One Friday night, they asked if they could get into their Easter candy after dinner," Jackson said.
Even though she's quite sure that a caveman never ate a chocolate bunny, she reluctantly consented. After dinner, though, the boys asked for kiwi slices and carrot sticks.
As the boys ate their healthy snack, Jackson remembered their request for Easter candy. She allowed herself a snicker, but didn't mention it to the boys.
Two months after Easter, those chocolate bunnies remain intact.
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