My Healthy 2020

I Went Paleo 8 Years Ago and Here’s How I’m Still Going Strong

updated Apr 14, 2020
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Credit: Design: Kitchn; Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Denham

Paleo was just gaining popularity when Lisa Denham did her elimination diet eight years ago. A student services coordinator in California, Lisa made the change to address some of her health issues, including how frequently she got sick. She explains, “I thought I was eating healthy at the time but what I didn’t know was that I was experiencing certain food intolerances. Except for avoiding pork and beef, I truly do follow the Paleo diet very closely.” Lisa shares how that change to her way of eating changed everything.

20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.

My Healthy: Paleo

What does “healthy” mean to you?
Living a lifestyle where what you eat, how you manage stress, and how you get exercise keeps you happy and free from sickness.

So health for you is defined in relation to avoiding ailments. What was the state of your well being before your shift to Paleo?
I had a lot of health issues prior to my switch. I had a lot of digestive issues, migraines, trouble with sleeping, brain fog, and I was getting sick frequently. I thought I was eating healthy at the time but what I didn’t know was that I was experiencing certain food intolerances. I’d happily eat yogurt and corn chips, and I didn’t realize that my two main food intolerances were corn and dairy. 

What eating style helps you feel your healthiest?
The Paleo lifestyle has been a game-changer. I follow the main tenets of Paleo. I don’t do red meat and pork because I had already cut those out 20 years ago. I do eat chicken, turkey, fish, and shellfish. I avoid legumes, dairy, corn, and soy. I did an elimination diet which is how I found Paleo. 

My lifestyle change has resulted in weight loss, better sleep, and endless energy. My adult children and husband have also now adopted this lifestyle. The best part: I am never sick!

What were your goals when you made this change?
I wanted to improve my significant digestive issues. I had a lot of constipation and acid issues. I was hoping to eliminate these issues or, at that time, just see some improvement. Within one week of the elimination diet, there was a dramatic improvement. 

How did you make this change? What motivation pushed you on?
Cooking is a huge passion for me. When I did my elimination diet, Paleo was just starting so I fell into it and started researching recipes to modify them to make them more exciting for me. After eating in this new way, I was feeling so much better. I basically eliminated my migraines and improved my stomach issues. I never really tried to diet but saw a dramatic weight loss over that year. This just felt so good to me. And it’s encouraged me beyond eating. It made me consider all the products in my home, the makeup I wear, how I clean, everything. And it all started when I changed my diet. 

Credit: Chungah Rhee
Sheet Pan Chicken with Red Potatoes and Sage

What are you most proud of?
I am proud that I haven’t compromised my love of cooking since I made this lifestyle change. My entire family loves my cooking, and my husband says our meals are more creative and taste even better. In fact, our friend group chooses to come to our house for dinner because they say my cooking is as good or better than when we go out to restaurants. I am always looking for new recipes and ways to change recipes to meet my needs.

So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
I am not sure why I haven’t struggled to stay true to my lifestyle. I think because I always feel good, I am never sick, I always have energy — all of that just motivates me to stay on track. I also lost 20 pounds over the first year, and I can eat whenever I am hungry without gaining weight.

What’s the one food you love the most?
Green curry with vegetables or shrimp, and butter chicken. 

If you were to recommend the Paleo diet to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
I always tell people that you don’t have to give up delicious food; you just have to give up all the processed and artificial additives that take away from the amazing taste of food. It’s also not hard to cook on this diet. I take a little time on the weekend to plan for the week. It truly is easy to make delicious meals, and you will be amazed by how great you feel.

Thank you, Lisa! Follow her at @LisaADenham on Twitter.

What Is the Paleo Diet? Start Here.

My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices

Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.