About the author : victoriafenton

In my life I have actually fought to be “normal”.  More than this, I have believed at times that a sign of me being “healthy” again would be my ability to eat a diverse array of foodstuffs – including gluten, dairy, sugar, processed chocolates and … well, everything that you might imagine falls under the banner of ‘eliminated’ when you embark on any diet of specificity.
In the last few weeks I have also been socialising more with “normal” people, i.e those outside my health spheres, people who’ve no more heard of the Autoimmune Protocols I practice (in both life and work) than understand what I actually mean when I say the words,

‘loosely speaking, Paleo-esque’.  This is how I describe my diet – not because I’m not eating within the Paleo framework, but because that term has come to be associated with so many negative connotations in the modern press, none of which are either true or relevant.  And because I don’t follow an ancestral health model because I have any illusions of mimicking our ancestors.  To my mind the words are all wrong, but the principles at their heart contain very modern truths.

When I do this I realise how perhaps my way of eating, to some, may seem like a ‘fad’.  It pushes me right back to being accused of having an eating disorder, which is not a great place I’ll admit.  As I have always said, my body and I really did develop disordered eating, but this was founded on really rubbish health – digestively, immunologically and neurologically.
I have had to find a way to eat that nourishes my body and soul.  It may look like a fad to some… but let’s break down what it means to use diet as a tool to heal, rather than a weapon of oppression.  Because make no mistake, I love the people who extol the ‘no-diet’ culture.  Weaponising nutrition as a means of attaining unrealistic body goals perpetuated by media stereotyping and airbrushing is, let’s be very clear, NOT OK.

But in one person’s hands a similar nutritional approach (call it clean eating, call it processed-food free, call it Paleo, call it ‘crunchy-granola-lululemon-worshipping-quackery’ – I don’t much care) isn’t about oppression or repression.  Instead, it becomes about freedom, liberation and internal physical peace.

This is my way of saying that those who seek to criticise what they call fad diets should seriously check themselves for criticising the dietary approach in question.  Yes, there are fads and idiotic moments in nutrition – but then ‘low-fat’ was a government-propagated version of just such a moment so we don’t need to leave the idiocy just to nutria-bloggers and #fitspo idiots.
Diet – as I repeatedly, wearily and exhaustingly state – is always, always a tool.  Much like any tool in any setting, it’s use is dependent on the context in which it is employed and the training and mindset of those employing it.  If you hate my long articles, this is the sentence that matters.  The diets aren’t the problem, and I wish the naysayers would stop slagging ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE off who follows a specific dietary approach.  Caveating your vitriolic posts with “of course, in some circumstances such dietary specificity is needed” would go a long way…
For those of you who want to know a little more – how I eat, how I’ve struggled to be OK with that, how the world sees it and how I am intimately connected to every element of why I need to eat the way I eat… well, OK, read on…

How Health Gets Reported

The Angry Chef has just put out another blog post (linked) which has forayed into the Ketogenic Diet.
Brave man.
No – seriously.  Some of my clients know that I attempted to write an overview on the pluses, minuses (many minuses), confounding variables, success stories and risk factors for attempting to follow a ketogenic approach – and by the time my ‘article’ had migrated to an e-book of almost 20 pages, still far from complete, I abandoned the project believing that not only would no one be interested, but my objections would not even register as the tidal wave of pro-keto marched forward.
What I wasn’t doing is what I suspect The Angry Chef is about to do, which is lambast everyone who has jumped on the Keto bandwagon.
Because I have read their work and observe their progression, most (if not all) who were so gung-ho about Keto at the beginning are now insisting that Cyclical Ketosis is the most biologically sound approach, wherein you cycle in and out of the high-fat dietary approach which limits carbs by bumping up your carbohydrate intake either nightly (spending most of the day fasting/very low carb) or at the weekends, or for weeks at a time and then roll back into higher fat, lower carb.
I know this because I have listened to their journeys, not just their original enthusiasm.  I know this because I tried ketosis myself – and I just can’t tolerate all the fats that I needed to eat.  I know this because I care about people, not just about scientific explanations of the Krebs cycle and Oxaloacetate (don’t worry, not important).  And whilst I comprehend all of the biology, I also listen to the evolution of ideas.
So perhaps I am jumping before the Angry Chef releases his Part 2… but the whole thing at the bottom of his article really piqued my annoyance at the whole proclamation of ‘fad diets’ being a bad thing, after an article which quite clearly states that ketogenic diets have therapeutic uses.
The same is true of ABSOLUTELY EVERY SINGLE ONE of the diets that I have seen people ridicule.  I’m not talking the weight-loss diets like Maple Syrup, even Weight Watchers or Cabbage Diets (which deserve all the ridicule anyone can muster, and are sold as ‘weight loss’ NOT ‘health promotion’.
Instead, I am talking of the so-called ‘clean eating’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘dairy-free’, ‘refined-sugar-free’, ‘low-carb’ diets that people have chosen to adopt – some with the ideology that this is ‘just another diet’ to lose weight (silly, silly).
Some, like me, have found a way to eat that very closely resembles the clean eating ‘fad’ – because at least this way I don’t projectile vomit after meals, swell up with inflammation, develop odd rashes and excessively weeping eyes, break out in rosacea or full-blown adult acne and I don’t get stupid headaches, dizzy spells, really gnarly tummy pains and – oh yeah – in case you missed my previous post linked here – I can put a load of metal, plastic and tension into my mouth and not literally keel over with the strain of it all.

How I Eat, Why I’m “Paleo” (ish), Why I STILL Struggle To Say That & What It Actually MEANS

As I have alluded to, there was a time when I thought that my ultimate health would be a return to nutritional freedom, i.e. being able to eat whatever the hell I wanted.  That was around the same time I was being told it was all in my head so I actually thought that it meant I was psychologically screwed up if I couldn’t eat pizza, chips and ice cream without flinching.
My goal for my healing at that time was to be able to eat junk without caring, feeling emotionally or physically rough, and most importantly – without guilt.
You read it everywhere these days, particularly in the Body Positive community, that we should never feel guilty for what we eat.  Abstinence and sugar-free are punishments and nobody should care if they want to eat what others deem as ‘bad’ foods.  There are no ‘bad’ foods.  STOP with your food meritocracy: your body is your body and if you care too much about being specific about what you put in your body then you are orthorexic…
Yup, I internalised that.  I felt terrible for not being ‘fixed’ when I started to work with clients.  It was my dirty secret that I was extolling food freedom and expanding people’s confidence in their bodies to heal and to accept a more diverse array of foods… whilst I was still worrying about the fact that I couldn’t eat pizza.  Or chips.  Or Ice Cream.

One day, projectile vomiting yet again, I realised that the reason I can’t eat these foods is because they make me sick.

I know, it’s idiotic that I didn’t see it before, but because so many eating disorder accusations were in my history (pre-diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, POTS, any GI issues, parasites, intestinal permeability and/or bacterial dysbiosis) I had neglected to reframe my actual health goals…
I was still trying to prove to the psychiatrists that I was strong and mentally OK with consuming sugar – chocolate, wheat, ‘treats’, biscuits, yoghurt, heck – even potatoes.
I was still trying desperately to display to those who accuse others of ‘food faddism’ that I wasn’t one of those orthorexics.
Until I finally saw that trying to be others’ versions of healthy was making me alarming, powerfully, viscerally unhealthy.  I was being a hypocrite too – recommending nutrient dense, autoimmune-style diets to heal my client’s issues whilst forcing my body into some form of hell by insisting that I would be OK with gluten if I just willed it to be true.  I’ve got the genes which predispose to gluten issues, for F’s sake – and my life experiences have been enough to turn all of those genetics fully on (more on this later in the Psyche section).
So I very quickly allowed myself to eat the way I wanted to eat…
And it ended up looking like a ‘fad diet’… or Paleo, to be specific, without most nightshades and without nuts – so possibly a bit Autoimmune-ish, but then I can do tomatoes (thank heaven) and can’t really do chocolate so… it’s sort of… well…
Do you know what it is?  It’s the Victoria Diet.  It contains organ meats and oily fish, some shellfish and bone broth.  It contains some fruits, it contains lots of oil (Brain Octane Oil from Bulletproof I am in love with… but don’t tell the Angry Chef because he’ll criticise me for trying to be ketogenic by using exogenous ketones… again not actually what I’m doing…) and it’s sort of … well, it’s Healthful Nutrition (which is probably not a term I’ve coined, but it’s the one I’m using).
Let me break down what that means to me:

Healthful Nutrition is the consumption of foods that provide you with more than they take away.

Simple.  (And note that I said ‘you’ and NOT ‘your body’ – there is a huge emotional and soul component to food which people often forget…)
Healthful Nutrition results in a diet that is personal to every single human being.  Foods are complex chemical structures containing nutrients, anti-nutrients and calories.  For me, the foods I choose fall into the Paleo template because this diet is literally built on the principle of consuming foods which are rich in nutrients and low in anti-nutrients.  And for someone like me, with my history, the anti-nutrients have much more of an effect than they may in others.
The reason grains aren’t in my life is because the anti-nutrients that come packaged inside them seriously affect my body.  Sod everyone who says gluten is fine… for me, those proteins release zonulin in my GI tract which increases intestinal permeability and a whole host of inflammation that follows (and I know because I’ve tested my blood both for zonulin and any ‘stuff’ that might have crossed the barrier).
And no, I can’t consume dairy.  Biggest projectile vomit food to me – it’s like I can’t swallow it.  No idea why.  But yep – there is the argument that dairy and gluten look similar to the immune system, and that dairy is pretty poor nutritionally when it comes from factory-raised, antibiotic-laden cows.  So that’s not really Paleo, though many people even within Paleo do consume raw, unpasteurised, grass-fed dairy in the form of the fattier creams, naturally fermented yoghurts and nutrient-rich butter and ghee.
And no, I can’t consume nuts.  Not a moral objection, just a recognition that they make me swell up like a balloon.  And yes, that might be to do with the anti-nutrients and the fact that I don’t soak, sprout and properly prepare them… but really – I just watch my body suffer when I eat them.  They are, very definitely, a Paleo food – so many people in Paleo eat them like they’re Smarties…
And no, I don’t do potatoes – one of the nightshades my body really doesn’t like.  Nightshade AND fun anti-nutrients called glycoalkaloids mean that this vegetable doesn’t make my tummy happy, or my skin (red, blotchy, swollen – even my lips).  Potatoes ARE Paleo – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  But if you’re sensitive you might not deal well with potatoes, so don’t let their inclusion in Paleo templates force you to eat them.
But be aware – my diet is not macronutrient specific.  I am not ‘low-carb’ or ‘ketogenic’ specifically, though at times I may foray into both of those states due to the nature of the foods that I eat.  However, Paleo IS NOT NOW AND NEVER HAS BEEN ABOUT LOW-CARBOHYDRATE DIETING… Paleo is much more about food quality and micronutrients than it ever has been about quantity and macronutrients.

So what I’m trying to say is that I tried so hard to have the diet that other people would approve of, just to prove that I was ‘better’.  In actual fact I needed to consume a diet that my body was content with.  Because my body has been to hell and back, many times.  And continuing to put it through hell to prove a point was senseless.  I didn’t need to prove that my diet wasn’t a fad – I needed to own the fact that, for me, the way I eat is not a fad at all.  It simply keeps me healthy, symptom-free and sane.

Autoimmunity, Intestinal Permeability and the Psyche

Now, perhaps more than anyone I read in the autoimmune/Paleo/nutrition/ancestral health space, I really own the psychological elements of what leads me to where I am today.
I know deeply, and the science is building to prove it, that one of the lead dominos in intestinal permeability isn’t gluten, grains or dairy – it’s stress.
I also know, and the science is there to prove it, that immune responses can be incredibly quick to react in times of stress – it’s an evolutionary protection mechanism.
And it doesn’t matter how you look at it, no matter the genetics or the life experiences, everything to do with health is always compromised by stress.
This is partly why I believed for a long time that me being ‘healed’ would equal me being able to eat anything – even gluten – without symptoms.  My willpower and emotional fortitude would heal my gut, right?
The reality for everyone with autoimmune conditions, particularly intestinal-permeability-related ones (which is practically all of them), is that there is a component to this need for dietary specificity which is entirely to pacify a body who’s trust in and ability to handle life has been damaged or broken.
Autoimmunity is a moving, sliding scale of reactions, attacks and remission.  It is founded on the very workings of immune health, which are complex and not fully understood (read my article linked here about Th1 and Th2 dominance for more on this).  But it is definitely linked to an inability to turn immune reactivity off and/or a misjudgement of what is friend and what is foe in health.
In my practice and in my life, I know that the immune responses are closely linked to feelings of safety and security.

I know, and can fully, fully own the fact that my immune and physical responses are so strong (and require my dietary specificity which might be termed ‘faddy’) because at certain points in my history my nervous system, body, mind, soul – every part of me – felt completely unsafe, completely overwhelmed and completely broken in my relationship to life itself.  I felt threatened.  Utterly threatened.  And so every part of my genetic predispositions to strong immune responses to outside invaders turned viscerally and forcefully on.

Part of the reason I am where I am today is the fact that I now fill my body with nutrients and don’t fill it with anti-nutrients.  But perhaps a bigger part of my health outcome revolves around Mindset and Psychology.  My greatest life hacks aren’t biohacking, they’re mind hacking.  I choose to believe, even in the face of adversity and pain, that my body is safe.  No matter how insecure I feel, I’ve been much, much more unsafe and have nearly died several times.  I survived that, so I must be safe and strong somewhere.
My need to follow a ‘clean’, ‘Paleo-esque’, ‘Ancestral’, ‘Autoimmune’, ‘processed-food-free’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘refined-sugar-free’ diet comes because my body has been through huge traumas and my immune and nervous system are primed to pounce on potential antigens.  My Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome means my gut has a tendency to weird motility and permeability issues which add to this need for Healthful Nutrition and Nutritional Specificity.
My diet is not a fad.  My diet is a way I make my life liveable.  Actually my diet is what allows me to have the stuff like alcohol, which I can tolerate – and is in no way nutritionally ‘good’ but emotionally and socially is a wonder-nutrient.  My diet is what allows me to help other people find their health, because I have the energy and the desire to help people who need to be specific about nutrition.
And this is the important part.  If you’re Paleo or AIP for weight loss or #fitspo – STOP.  You’re giving The Angry Chef (and others) a whole heap of ammunition to throw at everyone who really, really need to follow a relatively clean, unprocessed diet in order to regulate their bodies’ health and symptoms.
If you’re Paleo or AIP because you have a deep meritocratic idea that certain foods are bad and yet you have no evidence to suggest that they’re bad for you I would encourage you to really dig into why you’re doing this.  Some people with eating disorders have found elimination diets as a tool to manipulate themselves and those around them.  Sometimes this is the way digestive and hormonal illnesses are actually created and I would encourage you to bounce your way of eating off those that love you, or in your own internal headspace, to evaluate whether you’re doing this because somebody told you to.  Could you have that pizza without guilt tonight if you had to?  If not, and if that frightens you – and if quantity frightens you, or calories frighten you, or one macronutrient in particular frightens you – and if you’re eating Paleo but NOT eating some of the nutritious foods like bone broth, organ meats and seafood… then I would implore you to talk to someone about this.  This is where the use of Paleo becomes a tool behind an eating disorder, and that is deeply concerning and really needs to be dealt with by professionals and loved ones who can help you through.
If you’re following Paleo because you just care about your health and recognise that processed foods aren’t full of nutritional benefits, that’s excellent – but this isn’t a religion or a dogma, it’s guidelines.  There is no rule book so you aren’t breaking the rules if you have pizza on a weekend, or enjoy some ice cream from time to time.  You aren’t being ‘good’ because you’re eating Paleo – there is no moral compass within nutrition and this isn’t a lifestyle you should force on anyone else.
But if you, like me, are someone for whom that same pizza and ice cream (which fall into the 20% of the above people’s 80/20 lifestyle) are foods that literally hurt your body – for whatever reason, and with whatever emotional/psychological/physical backstory – then own the fad that you need to eat in order to allow your body to heal, and remain healthy.
So I may be sort-of-Paleo, sort-of-AIP, sort-of-ancestral… ish… and you should absolutely not care about what I eat.  My diet is my business.  And it may have titles which attract incredulous venom from those who think any kind of nutritional preference is akin to eating disorder.  But it’s my life, my body – and one person’s ‘fad diet’ is another’s lifeline.

Never forget with diets – they are tools which must be used in the correct context, for the right person, with the correct intention.  It’s rarely the science behind the diet that’s flawed and regularly the particular situation in which it’s being implemented.

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