Sunday, 23 Jan, 2022

Reflection on a Decade of Health Education

When I started on November 4, 2011, it was a culmination of seeing the immense health improvements I had achieved since starting the..


When I started on November 4, 2011, it was a culmination of seeing the immense health improvements I had achieved since starting the Paleo diet nearly 2 months before, and my passion for wanting to share this experience with someone else who might need the motivation and answers for their own health. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to grow into my career; a career that is still driven by my passion for all things nerdy, improving people’s health and utilizing my PhD to implement a science-focused lens on the connection between autoimmune disease and diet & lifestyle.

I wrote about my journey into Paleo and creating the AIP in My Personal Journey With the Autoimmune Protocol, but ultimately, The Paleo Mom was not just an outlet for my enthusiasm about the Paleo diet, but also an authentic connection to like-minded people in the outside world.

My 10 year anniversary is a unique opportunity to reflect on some of my achievements and big milestones over the last decade and to celebrate my personal growth, my family’s evolution, and the great reward that it has been to help so many people regain their health.

How I Got My Start With AIP

Following the launch of The Paleo Mom blog in November 2011, despite the rapid and stark improvements in my health, I still had some symptoms that were left unresolved. I found two websites at the time that combined overlapping-but-not-identical lists of foods (thank you Professor Cordain and Robb Wolf for the original inspiration) and that dubbed them “The Autoimmune Protocol”.  I decided I needed to try eliminating these additional foods, so as a New Year’s resolution for 2012, I eliminated all of the additional foods deemed problematic for autoimmune conditions.

The scientific explanations for these additional eliminations weren’t robust enough to satisfy me however, so I dove into the scientific literature on immune function and the intersection with prolamins, agglutinins, phytates, glycoalkaloids and lysozyme. Not only did this journey uncover some fascinating science that tickled my brain, but sharing this information really resonated with my audience at the time. So I began to piece together the scientific validation for these theories and sew together a guideline for implementation. Thus the Autoimmune Protocol was created.

And even though the AIP made a tremendous difference in my own health, the best part of my work on the Autoimmune Protocol is the amazing friendships, colleagues and community I’ve found through it.

A Podcast is Born

I don’t actually know how I ended up on a reviewer list for Eat Like a Dinosaur by Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry of the RealEverything (then Paleo Parents) blog, but I did. It was probably thanks to my website name making my compatibility obvious, in addition to having achieved a critical mass of social media followers in my first 4-5 months of blogging. It’s a darn good thing that I loved the book because Stacy reached out to me on social media and we booked our first phone call. Our first conversation turned into many more, and when she asked if I would co-host a podcast with her…I was in!

Nine years later, Stacy and Matt have been my biggest and best supporters through the years, introduced me to other Paleo bloggers, and ultimately helped me to find confidence in my knowledge and the value of my unique voice.

My First Book Deal

As The Paleo Mom grew and grew, and my content list got longer and longer, it was getting harder to ignore those: “when are you going to write a book” questions. After much thought and discussion with my husband, I decided that I did not want to write a book. Once my kids were both in school, I intended to return to academia and research. The universe had other plans however and ten months after I launched my blog, I was approached by two different publishers a week and a half apart from each other. You thought I could cram an impressive amount of science into a blog post? Well give me a book deal and hold my red wine! The Paleo Approach was born out of the immense amount of scientific research that I had compiled to create the ‘protocol’ portion of the AIP: A detailed breakdown of the science of why, and how these certain foods can exacerbate our existing health conditions. The Paleo Approach was published, and it officially was released on January 28th, 2014.

First Book Signing Event

Once The Paleo Approach was finally published, my local Whole Foods store in Atlanta held my very first book signing event. It was super exciting to see 60-70 people lined up waiting to meet me and have me sign a copy of my book for them in front of the huge display that my local Whole Foods had created for me. I mean, I was just a stay-at-home mom who started a blog for my own interest, and now I’m literally giving out autographs?! This was a surreal moment for me and a huge celebration for myself and my family.

The ‘Second’ Book

For those of you who might be familiar with my style by now, to say that I am a “go big or go home” personality would be an understatement. Let’s just say that my original plan to write a complete guide to managing autoimmune disease and lifestyle was overly ambitious, and the laws of physics (and book binding) precluded me from including everything I wanted to in one single volume of The Paleo Approach. Thus, my second book ended up as a companion cookbook to The Paleo Approach, and included over 150 recipes that are AIP-compliant, (and that was nearly double the amount of recipes typically published in any cookbooks at that time)…did I mention I am a bit of an overachiever?

True to form, even cutting the master book into two published prints was a challenge, and each book contained as many pages that could be physically bound into a book by my publisher at that time. The Paleo Approach Cookbook was released in stores and online retailers on August 26, 2014 and was a very long labor of love. I started working on both books in October, 2012 and yes, therefore the creation of the books occupied nearly two years of my life.

My First Employee – I Guess I Run a Business Now?

Team Paleo Mom
Through the process of being an engaged mom to two young girls, working on my blog (almost exclusively while they were at school or asleep!)- at that time I was publishing 5 blog posts a week – and writing two university-textbook-length best-selling books on the Autoimmune Protocol simultaneously, I realized this was simply too much for one person to keep up with. In the Summer of 2013 I hired my very first employee.

Since then, my team has gradually expanded (with a few past team members graduating on to follow other passions) and evolved into a diverse and talented team of passionate women, who ensure I am at my best so that I can help as many people as possible. I am where I am thanks to the dedication and hard work of all past and present employees, each of whom has been instrumental in keeping my website running, creating my e-books, marketing my courses, and developing content for social media and other projects. Through these 10 years, I have learned how to transition from a solo entrepreneur, into an authentic, vulnerable, yet fearless leader who surrounds herself with people who want to change the world.

My Official Hashimoto’s Diagnosis

After publishing The Paleo Approach in early 2014, I realized I had become completely run into the ground, (talk about not practicing what you preach!) irony at its finest. My adrenals were shot, my autoimmune symptoms were super high, and I had officially hit a wall. I remember attending a school family dance with my oldest daughter in early spring 2014, when I ran into the mom of one of Adele’s classmates. She was a nurse at a local functional medicine clinic and told me about the new doctor there and how they had been giving out my book to their patients. Fast forward to: I made an appointment and he decided to run a full thyroid panel (among many other insightful tests), which quickly diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, a new addition to my growing autoimmune disease list (I mean, I know I said I am an overachiever in everything – but achieving autoimmune disease BINGO was not necessarily what I meant!). See Grief Upon Diagnosis: Uncovering Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

This doctor changed my life and he is still my trusted health partner to this day. I am so thankful for all that I have learned in my own research and experimental journey, but I would not be where I am without the support of amazing medical practitioners along the way who believe me, listen to me, and stand by my side as we troubleshoot one thing at a time!

My First Big Book Tour

In the fall of 2014, I joined Stacy Toth for the middle leg of her 3-week book tour with her husband, Matt McCarry (during which Matt went home to look after their three boys) to celebrate the release of their third book, Real Life Paleo. I met up Stacy, Matt and our friend, Russ Crandall, for a cooking demo and book signing in New York city. At this point, I had done a few book signings, seminars, and cooking both on camera and in front of live audiences, but never had I had to improvise so much! We were missing ingredients and equipment, and somehow, it made it a hilarious bonding experience for each other and extra fun for the fans who came out to meet us. We wrapped up the evening with a delicious dinner at Hu Kitchen and by enjoying the freezing cold view from the top of the Empire State building. From there, Stacy and I did events (that all went much smoother!) in Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Portland and Seattle. We were supposed to also go to Minneapolis, but a giant snow storm forced a change of plans! But, we did make it just a month and a half later (and tacked on signings in Nashville and Toronto, too)!

It was my first experience with the city-a-day type book tour (which I also did for The Healing Kitchen and Paleo Principles), exhausting and exhilarating, a wonderful opportunity to meet hundreds of lovely people, connect with old friends, and make new ones.

Website Revamps and The Technology Journey

Through my 10 years in the blogging and website development space, The Paleo Mom website has gone through several iterations of technology evolution. I began my online journey hard-coding and manually editing the html of the menus every time I posted on the ‘Blogger’ platform. Within the first year of blogging however, I decided to migrate to WordPress which was a big learning curve, and eventually hired a company to do a revamp in 2014. The custom theme was pretty, but the functionality was still average.

In 2016, I met my trusted developer and friend David at who did a complete professional blog redesign and he has been my amazing collaborator and developer ever since! The final product that you continue to enjoy today has only been enhanced by my outstanding graphic designer who continues to amaze me with her visionary process and creativity.  See My Personal Journey as a Blogger

Awards and Content Acknowledgement

In 2014, I began to receive various awards for my blogging content. Okay, I guess this isn’t just a hobby after all! I was truly finding my passion and purpose through this journey, and the message was resonating with so many people.

Also in 2014, The Paleo Approach became a New York Times Bestseller, and all of my other books received national best seller recognition as well. At the risk of sounding like I’m giving an awards acceptance speech, I would not be where I am without all of you! The empathy and understanding that this community has for each other through chronic illness is unmatched. Teaching people how to empower yourself with knowledge and science, and discover your own strength through even the most challenging health journeys, was an underserved portion of the population, and we are all better for learning, adjusting and bravely stepping into the world of healing diet protocols, together.

Speaking Events and Appearances

When I joined the Paleo world, I brought it into my entire home for my family to also benefit from, and I became well versed in the principles and lifestyle fairly quickly. With my newfound expertise in the Paleo field, I hosted my very first live event in 2012 at a local martial arts studio on the basics of Paleo.

sarah talking

As The Paleo Mom popularity grew, and as my books continued to be best sellers, I had to transition from a purely online presence to live events, adding travel and speaking gigs to the mix. The first big speaking engagement that I had was at the Ancestral Health Symposium in 2013 in Georgia. Part of the allure was that it was my local area and I did not have to travel. The event went over extremely well and not only did I find my feet as a speaker, but my authenticity and vulnerability (not to mention I’m a complete ham as soon as I have a live audience to perform for) really seemed to resonate with the audience. I quickly started attending nutritional, functional medicine, and Paleo community conferences, both for professional and public audiences, and often asked to keynote, which I happily accepted in most all cases.


In February of 2019 I hosted a live workshop to 100 people who traveled from all over the world to meet me in California to learn, explore, connect and relax over a long weekend. I taught nearly 15 hours of seminar over the weekend, covering a wide range of topics from therapeutic diet and lifestyle, to gut health, to sustainable weight loss. The weekend was such a success that I immediately hired a videographer when I got back home and made it a virtual workshop experience available for everyone!

But, I have discovered that traveling is probably the hardest thing for me to do physically, and I often become ill afterwards. I was finding that, between the time to prepare a presentation, attend the event, then recover afterwards, it was getting harder and harder to complete my other projects. So, prior to the pandemic, I had found myself starting to turn down many speaking opportunities in order to limit to 4 or 5 speaking gigs a year, something I intend to continue once in-person events fully resume.

My Chance at Fame! (Please, Hold Your Applause)

With the increasing popularity of the Paleo movement, and a little sprinkle of serendipitous introductions, I was given the opportunity to pitch a network television cooking show centered on the Paleo lifestyle. After two years of working with the network, I filmed an entire pilot episode of Paleo Bites. The goal of the show was to go beyond just recipes and share the science behind this powerful way to take control of your personal well-being. We focused on the science behind foods, sourcing good quality ingredients, and cooked up a delicious Paleo meal on air. And, because the Paleo approach doesn’t just end with our diet, each week, we would learn some important tips for staying active, managing stress, and other important aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Because of the wonderful magic of the internet, the entire episode is actually available online and can be watched here. Unfortunately the show was not picked up, and I had to continue my journey to fame through good old fashioned hard work and lots of blog writing!

AIP Certified Coach

In 2017, Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt of and I teamed up to create a practitioner training program for the Autoimmune Protocol. Mickey and Angie were some of the very first people I bonded with online when I started with the AIP almost ten years ago (read more here), and their contributions to our community are truly invaluable.  Our early conversations about our experiences with the AIP helped inform many of the topics I focused my research on. Mickey and Angie have spearheaded the scientific study collaborations, raised funds for AIP research, and created some of the best AIP books and digital resources out there. And, as health coaches with autoimmune diseases themselves, they’ve helped so many people regain their health with the AIP, the perfect experience to complement my own in creating a robust program to train health and wellness providers in all the inner workings of the AIP. If you’re interested in becoming an AIP Certified Coach yourself, you can learn more here. And, if you’re looking for an AIP Certified Coach to work with 1-on-1, you can find the directory of our program graduates here.

The AIP Lecture Series

Throughout the marketing for the AIP Certified Coach practitioner training program, it became apparent that there was demand for a course to teach non-health-professionals the nuance and science behind the AIP and support them through their own healing journeys.

So shortly after the AIP Coach program launched, I went right back to my desk to begin developing the AIP Lecture Series. The first class launched in January 2018 and I am about to start my 10th session of the course. This is the only forum where people are able to get personalized guidance and support for their AIP journey from me directly, and learn all the important science behind the eliminations and lifestyle factors. If you are struggling with your own AIP journey, have hit a plateau and would love to interact directly with me to troubleshoot your AIP issues, consider joining the next course in January 2022. I would LOVE to have you!!

Podcast Picked Up by a Network

Though our podcast has gone through several evolutions, (if you dare, you can dive deep into the archives to hear all of our different intros and how our style has improved over time) very recently, we have achieved a significant milestone: We were picked up by a network!

The slow evolution of our podcast has happened over our 9+ years, but the true essence of uncovering what the science says, and sharing fact-based evidence for all of our episodes has garnered us a large and loyal audience. In episode 400, we officially changed our name from The Paleo View, to The Whole View to better represent our all-encompassing viewpoints of a holistic and healthy diet and lifestyle.

Taking Ownership of the AIP

For many years, I was very hesitant to own up to my role in creating the AIP. Even now, I truly see the popularity and success of the AIP as a group effort and a community-driven phenomenon. However, I have reflected on my role and am truly so proud of myself for seeing the gaps, and striving to fill them.

I took something that existed only in a very rudimentary form (two different food lists in two different book asides), and through my research and writing, I expanded it, refined it, fine-tuned it, gave it scientific credibility, and popularized it. At the same time, like a master baker creating a gorgeous wedding cake using a collection of ingredients that likely came from different sources, I had a starting place, inspiration and mentors, colleagues and like minded individuals, all in addition to my research skills and my own passion—all of this, and my own ingredients created something so beautiful.

This is why I resonate with the term creator, rather than founder or inventor or originator or architect or engineer or developer, because it can encompass both my invaluable work to make the AIP what it is today but also acknowledges the contributions of so many others. See My Personal Journey with the Autoimmune Protocol

My Personal Life

Some other noteworthy things throughout the last decade of working on The Paleo Mom include moments that you will not find in any of my archives. My beautiful girls have grown from sassy little toddlers into equally precocious, wonderful and determined young women (I have a teenager who is going to start learning how to drive in the new year, guys! Eek!). I have watched in awe as my husband, David, has grown from an assistant professor, to a valued administration team member in a tenured position at a prestigious university. And, my husband and I both became an American citizens in the summer of 2019 after living in the USA for fourteen years. The two cats I adopted in graduate school grew old and passed away in that time, and we brought two new cats into our home. And, our family grew by 4 feet (paws, to be exact) as we welcomed our newest fur baby, Soka, a Portuguese water dog, into the family in April 2020. I now get to start every morning, rain or shine, with a 4-mile hike in the woods with my super smart, super cuddly, mud-loving (but not bath-loving), high-energy pup.

I have not only grown in mental resilience and strength, but since 2013 I have been working with a trainer at a local CrossFit gym where I have achieved many personal fitness records and participated in several CrossFit opens. Two of my favorite highlights, my first toes-to-bar and the day I became a member of the 300 club in January of 2018 when I successfully deadlifted 310 pounds and celebrated with the appropriate amount of grunting and screaming!

I made sure to feed my other interests and talents along the way, and I became a professional improv performer for a few years, doing evening gigs at local theaters. I taught my family how to camp, shared my love of music (both my girls play piano), and still make time for gardening, home projects and crafts.

I have faced a lot of health ups and downs, both personally and with some immediate relatives. In 2019, my dad had a massive heart attack (he was dead for 20 minutes) which had me flying internationally, supporting family, and then heading directly to a live event, while heading home just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The adrenal crash and burnout from that year was one for the record books, and if there is any silver lining to a global pandemic, it gave me all of the permission to rest, recover and reset fully from the intensity of 2019!

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last decade. I’ve learned that I am not good at pacing myself. I want to do everything I like, all the time, at the same time. It has taken learning some lessons the hard way to truly master practicing what I preach, and even then, I make mistakes! This is one of the many reasons I make sure to surround myself with such a wonderfully competent team! There’s just no way I could accomplish my goals without such amazing people by my side! I’ve also learned that heels aren’t worth it and I really care about having comfortable feet.

Personal Growth

Throughout the last decade I have learned so much as an entrepreneur, as a mother, but also as a human! I had to learn how to delegate, how to say “no”, and how to value my own work appropriately and competitively. This journey has really helped me know and understand who I am as a person, which translates to every aspect of my life. It guides my hobbies, how I use free time, what I say when family calls and wants to unload stressful information onto me, how to manage a teenager’s complex emotions, and how to set and enforce boundaries in both work and life to stay healthy. There were some very hard-won lessons as I forged my path as a blogger and businesswoman, but also opportunities to develop myself as a unique leadership voice in our community.

I’ve learned so much over the last decade, not just scientific facts and the skills needed to effectively communicate them, but also about myself, who I am, and the impact I want to have in the world.  And finding my strength as a blogger and science-leader has quieted that little voice of doubt at the back of my head that followed me through most of my life.

I have learned (and also studied the research) about the power of embracing body positivity. I have continuously followed the science, even when it has begun to forge a different, and sometimes uncomfortable, new path through old dogma and historical messaging (i.e., you CAN be healthy at any size!). I am a staunch advocate of anti-diet culture and evolving towards what we do know, versus what we thought we knew. Ten years ago, I began to find my voice within the confines of diet-culture; Now, I want to use my voice to push back against it. And, I want to model health independent of thinness in my choices and my actions.

What Is Next for Dr. Sarah?

While the Paleo diet has never had a central organizing body, it has always been policed by enthusiasts who follow as unyielding and irrevocable the yes-no food lists presented in any of the early Paleo books, websites or podcasts. When I posted my recipe for Simple Roasted Green Beans in December 2013, my social media was bombarded with comments all-caps yelling: DON’T YOU KNOW THAT GREEN BEANS ARE A LEGUME?!?! This recipe is sacrilege! This is diet dogma. Dogma is defined as a set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.

Because it was the scientific foundation for the Paleo diet that originally attracted me to this way of life, I was surprised to confront such a strong desire for a completely static template, unresponsive to new scientific insight, and an unwillingness to consider alternate interpretations of how to best implement the actionable information from scientific studies. Science isn’t static.

The green bean controversy was merely the first time of many that I have confronted Paleo diet dogma to the exclusion of science. See Ditching Diet Dogma

My training as a scientific researcher has always permeated my approach to diet and lifestyle principles. I guess it’s once a scientist, always a scientist. My extensive experience of actually performing scientific research gives me an appreciation for the effort and passion that goes into scientific studies, as well as knowing the academic scientific research community intimately.

I’m completely open to new science challenging my conclusions and I will always let you know when new data changes the landscape with regards to a health topic.

In July 2012, I posted an article titled “(Re)Defining Paleo”, where I discussed the importance of defining a diet based on what we do eat, and not what we eliminate. That’s because it’s not the foods we avoid that make a diet healthy or unhealthy, but rather what we actually consume. And, the most fundamental property of a health-promoting diet is one that supplies the body with all of the nutrients it needs to function optimally.

Enter: Nutrivore

Over the years, I’ve come to resonate with a different label for the way I eat. I think of myself as a Nutrivore.

The goal of a Nutrivore diet is to fully meet the body’s physiologic needs for both essential and nonessential nutrients from the foods we eat, also called nutrient sufficiency, but without consuming excess energy (i.e., staying within daily caloric requirements).

Being a nutrivore is about the overall quality of the whole diet, and not about a list of yes-foods and no-foods. Even though eliminating empty calorie foods helps to achieve nutrient sufficiency without overeating, no food is strictly off-limits. In this way, being a Nutrivore is a diet modifier rather than a diet itself—a nutrivorous approach can be layered atop of other dietary structures and priorities in order to meet an individual’s specific health needs and goals. As I launch this new website outside of the dogma of diet culture, I have been able to truly put the science first and develop a completely new way of thinking about food.

I have just launched my new e-book, Guide to Nutrivore, and I am so looking forward to officially launching the website in the next couple of months!

My Thanks to You

I want to extend my sincere thanks to you for trusting me to deliver facts, scientific evidence and educational resources to inform your day-to-day choices. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously.

I am grateful to belong to a broader community of like minded individuals who respect science, who are open to new information placed in context and with nuance, and who are willing to engage in respectful discussion on the interpretation of novel data where the burden of scientific proof falls short of reaching consensus. I am grateful for our shared values of equality and inclusiveness, and that you appreciate the honesty and integrity with which I produce resources, create content, and communicate.

I am grateful for your continued engagement and participation in virtual conversation on social media and in response to my newsletters, articles and podcast episodes. I am grateful for the perspective of your shared stories and experiences that complement and contrast with my own. I am grateful for your continued support and enthusiasm. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support.

Cheers to another 10 years ahead!

The post Reflecting on a Decade of Health Education appeared first on The Paleo Mom.


By: Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, PhD
Title: Reflecting on a Decade of Health Education
Sourced From:
Published Date: Tue, 30 Nov 2021 13:00:51 +0000

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