Catching up with Katy Haldiman – also known as The Paleo Nurse – on why she thinks you should give Paleo a try, what it’s like to take a less traditional role in nursing, and her beef with traditional healthcare.
Introducing: Katy Haldiman aka The Paleo Nurse
I recently had the chance to catch up with Katy Haldiman and ask her a few questions on what it’s like to take a non-traditional nursing role by working with nutrition and what made her want to change the direction of her career. We also talk about some current frustrations that we can both agree upon with nutrition in the nursing profession.
For those who aren’t family with Katy Haldiman, she is an awesome registered nurse who runs her own blog/nutritional therapy practice, at Pure Nutritional Therapy. There she runs an amazing podcast, blog, and nutritional therapy practice. In addition to all of that she developed a nutrition course called, Paleo Care. Being a registered nurse myself with a passion for nutrition, I’ve loved Katy’s work and perspectives on nutrition since I came across her blog some time ago. Here’s why:
When most people think of a nurse, they think of more of a traditional role as a nurse in a hospital. You’ve been through a couple different roles as a nurse. Where has your experience taken you?
I’ve been a registered nurse for 9 years and it has been quite a journey. When I first graduated from nursing school, I worked in more of a traditional role as an emergency department nurse. Even before starting that job, I knew based on my nursing school experience that hospital nursing wasn’t my passion. I stayed long enough to gain acute care experience and then I moved into the community setting as a home health nurse. After I obtained my master’s degree, I transitioned into a variety of non-clinical and administrative roles in quality and patient safety. It was during that time that I developed an interest in nutrition and functional health and I decided to pursue additional education in these areas. Eventually, I started my private nutritional therapy and functional health practice. Currently, I work as a hospice nurse on a per diem basis while maintaining my private holistic practice. I also offer career coaching for nurses who want to explore non-traditional and holistic nursing roles.
What made you want to branch out from conventional nursing and take a more active role in nutrition?
In 2012, I was diagnosed with three autoimmune diseases (Crohn’s disease, myasthenia gravis, and seronegative inflammatory arthritis) and that led me to discover food as medicine. I was quite ill and I was desperate for hope that the conventional health care system wasn’t able to give me. I knew that there had to be a better way beyond medications with numerous side effects and the poor prognosis that doctors gave me. I started researching nutrition and lifestyle factors in managing autoimmune conditions and I haven’t looked back since that moment. Eventually, I was able to put all three of my autoimmune diseases into remission by following the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, healing my gut, and making major lifestyle changes. It was that experience that prompted me to obtain additional education as a nutritional therapist and make it my mission to help others make healing changes in their own lives through the power of real food.
What are some of the frustrations that you have with the nursing profession where it currently stands and especially in regards to nutrition?
One of my greatest frustrations with nursing and the conventional health care community in general is that the importance of nutrition in preventing—and reversing—disease is essentially ignored. Our “sick” care system emphasizes caring for patients that have already developed disease, rather than promoting healthy lifestyles that prevent disease from occurring in the first place. Management of disease is centered on treating symptoms instead of addressing the root causes, which is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. In many nursing specialties, paying attention to what the patient is eating is very low on the priority list, if it’s ever addressed at all.
In nursing school, students are taught vague concepts about the importance of “eating healthy” and lifestyle factors such as exercise and sleep. Unfortunately, it is the USDA, AHA, and ADA dogma that is taught to nursing students and that is the information that most nurses continue to teach their patients, despite the fact that current scientific evidence has debunked much of it. For example, there is a definite lack of evidence linking saturated fat and cholesterol to heart disease, but nurses everywhere are still encouraging patients to forego butter (a real food source of healthy fat) in favor of margarine (a highly processed food-like, factory-produced product). Nurses must continue to do their own nutrition research because organizations such as the USDA, AHA, and ADA are heavily funded by the agricultural and food manufacturing industries, which have their own interests in promoting unhealthy, processed foods.
After discovering that you wanted to spend more time helping people prevent diseases as opposed to just treating disease, you developed PaleoCare. Tell us about it and who is PaleoCare for?
Another nurse and nutritionist, Chelsea Prather, and I teamed up to create Paleocare. Paleocare is both a resource and a community for people that seeking alternatives to today’s modern health care approach. At Paleocare, we empower people to learn how to listen to their bodies and support their health with real food that honors their ancestral roots. We provide practical information on real food nutrition and how to navigate the health care system on our blog and podcast. Paleocare also offers “The Nurses’ Guide to Real Food”, which is a self-paced, 12 lesson online course that teaches you why and how to build a customized real food template. Paleocare is a great resource for anyone that is interested in learning about real food nutrition and how ancestral health principles can be incorporated into modern health care.
Why do you feel that this lifestyle can be so beneficial for people with chronic diseases or for people with autoimmune diseases such as yourself?
Many people are aware that genetics play an important role in the development of disease. What many people don’t realize is that developing a disease is more complicated than simply carrying the genes for a specific disease. Through the emerging field of epigenetics, we are learning that genes can be turned on or off by the nutrients that we consume through our diet, as well as other environmental and lifestyle factors (such as exercise and exposure to toxins). Consuming a diet that is comprised of real, whole foods provides the most nutrient-dense source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are necessary to keep the body running optimally and favorably turn genes on and off to influence the development of disease.
Additionally, there are few factors that all people with autoimmune disease have in common: increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut bacteria). Modern science is only just beginning to discover the critical role that the microbiome plays in overall health of the body. We do know that a leaky gut and gut dysbiosis is directly influenced by diet and lifestyle. A real food/ancestral health lifestyle is designed to heal the gut, reduce inflammation, and shift the gut flora to a more balanced, healthy state. It is through this mechanism that many people have been able to control—and even reverse—their symptoms of autoimmune disease.
I eat primarily Paleo and one of the most common comments that I get about this type of diet is that it’s primarily a meat based diet and that in itself can’t be healthy. What is one of the biggest misconceptions about the Paleo Diet that you can’t stand?
One of the common misconceptions about the Paleo diet that frustrates me is, “The average caveman only lived to be 30-years-old, so the Paleo diet must not be very healthy after all.” During the Paleolithic era, infant and childhood mortality rates were very high due to childhood diseases and infections. Today, these childhood diseases can be treated and cured through hygiene practices and modern medicine. Also, traumatic accidents and injuries that could easily be treated today would have shortened the lifespan of some individuals. These factors skew the average lifespan data by making it appear as though people following a hunter/gatherer lifestyle must not have survived past the 20’s or 30’s. In fact, studies show that if Paleolithic people survived to age 15, they could expect to live a reasonably long life into their 60’s and 70’s. It is also clear that Paleolithic people did not die from the diseases of civilization that plague us today—heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disease.
A lot of people aren’t aware that a registered nurse is a health care professional completely capable of nutrition coaching. What do you think are some of the benefits of working with a registered nurse for nutritional advice as opposed to the more popular options being a dietitian or a licensed/certified nutritionist?
Modern nursing practice has long embraced a holistic view of the patient, which is a phenomenon that other conventional health professionals have gravitated toward only in the past few decades. Nurses are the primary educators within the health care system and that places them in a distinct position to be able to educate patients and families about the numerous benefits of eating a real food, nutrient-dense diet and adopting other ancestral health lifestyle principles. Of all licensed health care providers, nurses also spend the most time with patients and families, which permits them to have a deeper understanding of what motivates patients, as well as the challenges and barriers that patients face when making lifestyle changes. Nurses have the background to base nutrition and lifestyle recommendations upon a critical examination of health and science research and they can be a strong patient advocate to guide you in making educated decisions about your health care choices and help you to learn about how your body functions.
What type of clients do you specialize in seeing and what is the best way for them to contact you if they’re interested in working with you?
I specialize in working with clients that have autoimmune disease, food allergies/intolerance, digestive disorders, and migraines/chronic headaches. Many of my clients have already been following a healing diet, but they haven’t obtained the results for which they were hoping.