Sure, there are some extreme diets out there. From cabbage soup diet, to grapefruit, people are willing to do (and eat) anything to lose weight. But the diets in question here are the ones that start for good reason. People may become vegans for animal rights, gluten-free to heal their digestive woes, and Paleo to treat autoimmune conditions.
That's why Shannon Werner, PhD, started Paleo. A transformational nutrition coach and systems biologist, she first learned about the Paleo diet for gut-healing as a graduate student. But it wasn't until she contracted a GI bug in Mexico that she started following a paleo protocol out of necessity rather than ideology. The first time she had removed gluten, grains, legumes, dairy, and excess sugar from her diet, her energy skyrocketed and her skin cleared. But with her new condition, no matter what she did, she felt tired, cranky, and weak — as her weight rapidly declined. Over time, she developed orthorexia out of fear of putting anything in her mouth that would make her feel worse.
"As a scientist, I had to know why my health was crumbling. I soon became my own n=1 experiment, and was obsessed with poring over literature, articles, and any information that was available that could help me understand my condition," says Werner.
In her opinion, it's not the diets themselves that are dangerous. It's the way we all use Google to self-diagnose. It's easy for someone to make a hypothesis and obsess over all of the information. Even somebody with a PhD, who knows the importance of good research and controlled experiments. "We are bombarded with social media posts about the need to use (or avoid) specific ingredients, but these [posts] never touch on the holistic interplay between mind, body, and spirit, and that we are all bioindividuals who assimilate and tolerate foods in a unique way."
After months of different gut-healing protocols, superfoods, and supplements, she finally asked for help. She found a functional medicine practitioner that helped her focus on stress-management and self-love in combination with a healthy diet. To this day, she still follows a modified version of paleo. But she does so from a much healthier place. From her perspective, food can be used as medicine, but this practice should not be done alone.