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About Victoria

Our Functional Medicine Consultant and Founder

VICTORIA FENTON

Hi there – I’m Victoria, and welcome to Paleo in the UK.

This website was my harebrained idea after getting fed up of being bombarded with nonsense, misrepresentation, falsehoods and direct criticisms of Paleo diets in both US- and UK- based media and social media.  Trusted ‘authorities’ or ‘thought leaders’ dismissing a diet based on a false perception of what it actually is, was (to my mind) NOT OK.

So I set out to do something about it.

 

I didn’t set out to do this because I have a fondness for ancestry or Palaeolithic recreations of ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

Instead, I set out to create a resource for my clients – because I was recommending the low-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet and lifestyle practices which I associate with ‘Paleo’ all the time.

And also because I live a basically Paleo lifestyle.  Because I have to.  And because doing so probably saved my life.

 

“Paleo” has negative connotations based on the way it has been promoted and marketed.  Commercialisation skews everything – and the rash of ‘Paleo foods’ in stores are a far cry from my recommended diets in clinical practice.

And yet, when applied according to how Paleo was originally intended, I have found that variations of personalised Paleo and/or Autoimmune Paleo diets (depending on the client in question) are the most useful tools I have in my armoury to shift the needle in my patients’ health outcomes.

As a clinician I see illness manifest when someone’s body is being overtly taxed by the life that they are living and the stresses placed upon their physiology and psychology.  My focus is to remove the factors which trigger this taxation and cause inflammation, metabolic derangement, physiological symptoms of dysfunction and emotional/mental distress.

These triggers can be everywhere and anywhere – from food to chemicals, toxins, moulds, environmental pollutants, emotions, thoughts, negative self-talk, relationships and histories of childhood (or even adulthood) trauma, PTSD, emotional abuse and/or bereavement.

I help my clients to tackle all of these areas in my practice – eliminating these burdens of stress whilst simultaneously building up their reserves to cope with such stressors.

And I do start with food.  Why?  Because food is what builds our bodies, runs our chemistry and provides energy for neurotransmitters, hormones, nervous system functioning and feedback loops.  The energy with which we nourish ourself dictates the quality and capacity of our energy to deal with every other stressor that we face.

The reason I use Paleo approaches – whatever you think of the word – has remarkably little to do with anthropology, evolution or a deep evaluation of the precise conduct of prehistoric man or hunter-gatherer societies.

It has everything to do with the way certain nutrients and lifestyle practices interface with our modern biology, gastrointestinal environment and microbiome, metabolic health and cellular function.

But what about me?  Why do I follow my own unique Paleo template?

MY STORY

Why I practice Functional Medicine and a Paleo(-ish!) diet and lifestyle

I became seriously ill when I was 17, although I would have seen signs of illness long before that had I looked for them.  If I noticed them at all, the signals that I was heavily inflamed and metabolically suffering were judged as personal failings rather than signposts that my biochemistry was in any sort of disarray.

My ‘wake up call’ came with a night of violent sickness, after which my stomach and gastrointestinal system seemed simply not to return to normal.  For weeks I could hardly swallow food.  When I started to eat again I would violently regurgitate large quantities of any meal.  I slowly reduced what I tried to eat, eventually ending up on apples and pistachio nuts – though I was sick with these too.  I kept this largely secret, though I was in no way fooling some people.  I felt guilty.  I honestly felt that I had broken my body and I didn’t know what to do.

But of course, I was losing weight – so in our society that meant a ton of complements came flooding my way…

To me, and I’m sure to those around me, it looked like an eating disorder.  I knew I wasn’t making myself sick, or even wanting to be sick, but I was afraid of what was happening, what it meant – and why I, someone who once used food as an emotional crutch, was suddenly in a state where I was unable to consume anything without feeling and being sick.  My body was out of control and I was distressed, anxious and, most overwhelmingly, ashamed.

Later I would discover ‘reasons’ behind these mysterious and alarming symptoms.  But first, I would face the judgment and dismissal of countless health professionals – all of whom had reached the furthest edges of their knowledge base when assessing me and therefore concluded that everything I was going through was “all in my head”.

I would lose over two thirds of my body weight, be hospitalised on 5 separate occasions, almost die three (perhaps four) times.  Throughout all of this it would be assumed I had ‘an eating disorder’ and my gastrointestinal bloating, distention and agony would be given scant attention.  The pain I experienced when eating was deemed psychosomatic.

The fact that I was eating as much food as I could get in (which wasn’t easy, but I was at least eating) was ignored.  It was assumed that I was lying, deceiving and concealing an eating disorder and malabsorption was not even considered, nor were any other health conditions.  The fact that I had become petrified of food and eating was seen as ‘proof’ that I was obviously disordered.

When many of the tests done on me came back ‘normal’ I was simply assumed to be wilfully restricting food and rejecting it through somehow making myself sick.  Even when every mouthful was watched and measured by nurses – and I was followed into bathrooms – I was still not believed about any physiological malfunctioning.

 

Later I would discover the truth.  But by later… I mean eight years later.

 

In my attempt to help myself heal I embarked on countless qualifications in all the disciplines I could think of.  I researched endlessly and stumbled into neuro-gastroenterology: the discipline revolving around the nervous system and the gut and how they interact.  Finally this led me to the one diagnosis that underlies all of the conditions I was struggling with, and still deal with today:

 

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder which means every tissue inside me is a little bit too stretchy.

 

That’s a huge oversimplification, but at its heart Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) is simply a collagen formation issue which creates flexibility.  In me, the health issues it gives rise to (and have finally been tested and validated by conventional medicine) are as follows:

  • mass gastrointestinal issues – everything from gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying) to gastro-eosophageal reflux disease (GERD) to a propensity to Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth and bacterial dysbiosis
  • Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, thought to be linked to the connective tissue containing either a proliferation of mast cells or mast cells which are very vulnerable to easy degranulation (breakdown).  The mast cells are the cells of our immune system which hold all of the inflammatory chemicals to attack invaders
  • Linked to the above, multiple sensitivities – to food, chemicals, environmental stressors and overloading of my senses – all of which cause an inflammatory response thought to be linked to immune dysregulation and mast cell issues
  • Non-coeliac-gluten-sensitivity – I have the genes for this and I also have a pretty permeable digestive tract thanks to the connective tissue/collagen issue.  Joint pains, swelling, inflammation and neurological issues are the result when I consume gluten (and many cross-reactive foods)
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome – a condition where the blood vessels don’t contract enough to squeeze blood around when changing positions, the result being dizziness and disorientation

 

What I learned could (and probably will, someday) fill a book.  But there is actually a simplicity to my conditions.

 

Whilst there is no cure for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, every condition that occurs as a consequence of my connective tissue disorder is exacerbated by one simple thing – and actually that’s the same thing that is at the heart of all illnesses: inflammation.

Successfully living and managing my life (and my health) revolves around the simple art of minimising inflammation whilst optimising the experiences and the nutrition which increase my resilience and my wellbeing.

 

This actually isn’t about avoiding inflammation or stressors entirely – it’s about building management techniques where I am careful to avoid any real triggers and agonists but I also invest in my ability to deal with and thrive through the inevitable experiences of reactivity.  (This part has less to do with the body and everything to do with attitude, psychology, mindset and emotional coping strategies.)

 

The Paleo-style approach (choose different words if you need to) is based on this principle which allows me to live normally: increase the healthful, decrease the harmful and stretch the body’s capacity in order to build robustness into the system.

 

The conventional attempts to ‘heal’ me revolved around feeding me up – with gluten-, sugar- and dairy-laden meals or ‘tube feed’ or ‘supplement drinks’.  This was in actual fact making me far, far worse.

My eventual ‘recovery’ came through using my training and education (and a now encyclopaedic awareness of the nutritional landscape) to recognise that the power to help my body, in spite of any wonky genetics, was in my own hands… and this began on my plate.

I am now a healthy weight and I eat much more easily, though I still have a few things I’m working on.  I run a health coaching, nutrition and Functional Medicine practice helping others to identify the connecting factors behind their symptoms and illnesses and seek out the root causes of often complex issues.  But I also support my clients in finding ways to nurture and care for their bodies and their minds, no matter what underlying conditions might be present for them.  None of this would have happened without me first learning how to live in my body.

For me, that began by recognising the power of food to change the way my body feels.  And no, I am not telling (and do not tell) everyone to “go Paleo”.  Instead, I simply recognise that removing inflammatory burdens from the body will lighten the load on your physiology – whoever you are.

The AIP and Paleo templates do this – and they were fundamental in my recovery.  But they can be made incredibly individual and personalised to the precise needs of everybody.  That is why they are just a ‘template’.  The personalisation is beyond the reaches of this site – here I wanted to create the educational, informative backdrop which provides the basic information for everyone to begin their own experiment.

One thing to note: there is a very real reason why Lifestyle and Psychology sections appear on this site.  The mindset, attitude and energy with which I approach my life (and my diet) is fundamental to the outcome.  The nutrition is a foundational piece, but true healthfulness lies in a multifaceted and complex approach to wellness which covers all elements of how I live my life.

That’s why this website is filled with information which will help you to be cognisant of the impact on your body of everything that’s in your life – including the monologue inside your head and the people in your social milieu.

As many people have said before me, it starts with food.  And it does.  For me, this way of eating means I give my body the best chance to excel in all of the other areas like mindset and attitude.  And in my career I use these tools to help others find their way to thrive too.

If after browsing this site you need my help directly, at any time, please email me on contact@victoriafenton.net