Chris Kresser is the author of Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life. Today on the NOOK Blog, he discusses his long and difficult struggle with his own health, and how using the Paleo diet dramatically changed his life for the better.
In 1998, not long after I graduated from college, I took off to see the world. While surfing in a small village in Indonesia, I came down with the classic “tropical illness” symptoms: I was delirious with a high fever, vomiting, alternating between chills and fever and had severe diarrhea. I don’t remember much about those few days, but fortunately an Australian I was staying with had some antibiotics in his medical kit and was able to nurse me back to health.
While I recovered quickly from this initial episode, as I continued to travel my health deteriorated and I was forced to return home to the U.S. I didn’t know it at the time, but this marked the beginning of 10-year life-changing journey from illness back to health. I spent the next few years simply trying to figure out what was causing my symptoms. I saw at least six doctors during this time, and had numerous stool tests—most of which were negative or inconclusive. Finally, a tropical disease specialist in New York City who used more advanced stool testing techniques discovered that I had not one, but three parasites. He prescribed a regimen of strong antibiotics, and we both hoped that would be the end of that.
We were wrong. Over the next several years I saw more than 25 doctors, including globally-recognized specialists in three different countries. When they couldn’t help me, I expanded into the world of alternative medicine. I saw acupuncturists, naturopaths, herbalists, bodyworkers of all types, and even energy healers and shamans. I took prescription medications, supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, and green foods. I became a vegetarian, and then a macrobiotic vegan. I tried raw foods, cooked foods, the acid-alkaline diet, the Candida diet, the food combining diet. I saw a therapist, I went on meditation retreats, I even moved to a retreat center in Big Sur called the Esalen institute to explore the emotional and psychospiritual aspects of the illness. You name it, I tried it. But I was still sick.
I was still suffering from severe digestive distress and fatigue, but I was also developing new symptoms like muscle and joint pain, brain fog and insomnia. The next few years were the most challenging of my life. My savings and other resources were exhausted, so I decided to move back to Los Angeles to start a company with my older brother. The idea was to create a flexible work situation that would give me the freedom to pursue my healing journey. However, the demands of the company quickly took over and I found myself working long hours in a stressful position without enough time to rest.
About two years after returning to Los Angeles, I had a complete breakdown. My body, mind and spirit collectively hit a brick wall. I was utterly exhausted and demoralized after years of illness, pain and an unsuccessful search for answers. I had seen world-renowned doctors, and specialists in every field of alternative medicine; I’d taken multiple courses of antibiotics, steroids and anti-inflammatories; I had a large cupboard I called “the supplement graveyard” with over 80 bottles of herbs, potions and pills I had taken over the years; and I’d tried more than 15 special diets. But while some of these things did help, I was still very ill. I was depressed and beginning to lose hope that I would ever regain my health and live the life I wanted to live.
That was when the tables began to turn. I was in a bookstore one day and saw a book called Nourishing Traditions on display. It advocated a nutrient-dense diet emphasizing animal products, bone broths and fermented foods. Of course I had tried many special diets prior to this, but something about the Nourishing Traditions approach resonated deeply with me. I started eating bone broth soups, sauerkraut, fermented dairy products, slow-cooked meats, eggs and cold-water, fatty fish. I also tried the soaked, sprouted or fermented grains and legumes recommended in the book, but quickly discovered that they irritated my gut and made me feel worse, so I eliminated them along with industrial seed oils, sugar and all processed and refined foods. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on a Paleo diet.
I started feeling better almost immediately after starting this diet. The most dramatic change was with my gut health; eliminating grains and legumes and adding bone broth and fermented foods had a profound effect. In addition to the dietary changes, I continued my meditation practice and added specific techniques for stress management. I also settled (after years of experimentation) on a supplement regime that further improved my health. Within a couple of years of embracing this new approach, I felt like a different person. In fact, for the first time in years I was excited about my future and ready for a fresh start. I felt a strong calling to use all of the knowledge and experience I had acquired in my own healing journey to help others with theirs. So I applied to the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, CA to finish the degree in Chinese medicine that I had started years before.
While there, I started a blog called The Healthy Skeptic (now ChrisKresser.com)—mainly as a “journal” to keep track of my own research and study. My grandfather had died following complications after bypass surgery; I suspected he hadn’t gotten the best treatment. The more I delved into the research about diet and cardiovascular disease, the more fascinated I became—why were Bapa’s doctors following a medical model that was half a century old? What other research was being overlooked?
I became deeply interested in the scientific evidence for various medical approaches to illness and began to blog about my findings on my website. I was quite surprised, then, the first time someone left a comment on one of my posts. I hadn’t told anyone about the blog, and to this day I still don’t know how people found it. Within a relatively short time, though, I had thousands of readers from all over the world. By the time I graduated and became licensed, I was fortunate to have a full and thriving private practice. Shortly thereafter, I was introduced to some members of the vibrant Paleo community. Now I had a name for the lifestyle I’d stumbled upon independently. I realized that I had found my tribe—a group of revolutionary individuals committed to helping people obtain optimal health.
Today, I’m blessed with excellent health, a loving family, and a thriving private practice. It’s incredibly rewarding to help patients discover their own Personal Paleo Code and recapture their health and vitality.