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Stephanie Vuolo's Story

By Stephanie Vuolo, B.A.
January 10, 2018
Stephanie Vuolo's Story image

What is the Paleo Diet? That was my initial reaction to the term “The Paleo Diet” when I started working out at a CrossFit gym 10 years ago. A fellow gym member gave me a quick synopsis of what it entailed, which was enough to get me intrigued. Going grain-free specifically, seemed to be just what I needed to improve my health.

Food was a huge part of my childhood. My father’s side of the family is Italian and we would all gather on Sunday for a feast starting with morning pastries, continuing to big plates of pasta with bread, and ending with homemade pies and cookies. At home, our pantry was filled with sugar cereals, every imaginable type of packaged cookie, and a freezer full of microwaveable TV dinners. My father owned and operated a Burger King, which we would get to eat every Friday night. Homemade dinner was whatever could be pulled together quickly, from a box, with the occasional can of corn or green beans on the side. My mother likes to joke about when I was six, I asked if we could have a “normal” dinner like other families who ate fresh vegetables.

I was sick throughout my childhood. Starting with chronic ear infections as a baby, and graduating to chronic tonsillitis and strep throat during elementary school. I would be prescribed antibiotics and about two weeks later would develop another infection. The solution was to have my tonsils removed. This certainly resolved the tonsillitis, but then lead to chronic sinus infections throughout my teen years. Beginning when I was a teenager, I inherently knew that food was related to our health. However, I was operating on the paradigm of whole grains being the foundation.

I dabbled in various ways of eating through my 20’s, which could be described as low-fat, vegan-friendly, and then flexitarian – all aiming to follow the nutrition guidelines set forth by the government. My grocery cart was filled with low sodium soups labeled healthy, and low-sugar wheat-based cereals, rounded out with whole grain breads. Once when I was living in Brooklyn, after evaluating my purchases, the grocery cashier asked me if I was on a diet. I answered, “No, I just follow a healthy diet.”

Despite my attempts to eat nutritiously, I did not feel great. I had a bunch of symptoms, such as hypoglycemia, debilitating stomach pain, dizziness- sometimes leading to fainting, and numbness and tingling in my limbs. Over the course of a few years, I endured a battery of tests from a variety of doctors, but no cause could be determined. And no solution for improvement was suggested. Finally, in 2006 I learned about food sensitivities from my naturopath and I went on a strict protocol free of gluten, dairy, nightshades, eggs, and a host of other foods to which a blood test revealed I was reacting to.

By eliminating these offenders from my diet, my energy and symptoms improved. However, I was disappointed to find out after six months of new eating habits my subsequent blood test revealed I was reacting to the alternative grains I had been substituting for gluten. I took various supplements to support my digestion and continued my gluten-free diet thinking it was the only thing I could do until I discovered the Paleo Diet about a year later.

It all began to make sense. Our modern diet, even when free of gluten and dairy (and with the use digestive supplements) doesn’t work with how our bodies run most efficiently. I’ve embraced the Paleo Diet as a lifestyle and also as the nutritional foundation on which I am raising my daughter, who is seven.

I haven’t been completely disease free in the past decade. My pregnancy most likely triggered a reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) [1] that had been latent and lurking in my body. EBV is the virus that usually causes the symptoms of mononucleosis [2]. Approximately 95 percent of people between the ages of 35 and 40 carry an inactive form of this infection [3]. Many of those infected with mono never even develop symptoms upon initial infection-- I was one of them. It is considered very rare to develop chronic EBV, which is diagnosable by blood test [4], and many doctors brush it off as an inconsequential illness. Although, I would argue it can be severely debilitating and has a negative impact on quality of life.

EBV is known to damage mitochondria [5], the powerhouses of the body where energy [6], ATP is produced [7]. Fatigue is often the initial and major symptom when the virus is active. I had chalked my fatigue up to pregnancy and then the demands of motherhood. I also began to get sick all time, with a chronic sore throat, runny nose, leading to a lingering cough that would last for over six weeks. I would get better and then two weeks later the cycle would start again, similar to the pattern I had as a child. Fortunately, over the past few years my immune system has gotten the upper hand, and although the EBV will never go away, the Paleo Diet has been the core of how I manage it.


1. Fleisher, Gary, and Ronald Bolognese. "Persistent Epstein-Barr virus infection and pregnancy." Journal of Infectious Diseases 147.6 (1983): 982-986.
2. Sumaya, Ciro Valent, and Yasmin Ench. "Epstein-Barr virus infectious mononucleosis in children." Pediatrics 75.6 (1985): 1011-1019.
3. Schooley, R. T. "Epstein-Barr virus." Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases 2.2 (1989): 267-271.
4. Okano, Motohiko, et al. "Proposed guidelines for diagnosing chronic active Epstein‐Barr virus infection." American journal of hematology 80.1 (2005): 64-69.
5. Vernon, Suzanne D., et al. "Preliminary evidence of mitochondrial dysfunction associated with post-infective fatigue after acute infection with Epstein Barr virus." BMC infectious diseases 6.1 (2006): 15.
6. Goldschmidt, Vivian. "What Are Mitochondria?."
7. Myhill, Sarah, Norman E. Booth, and John McLaren-Howard. "Chronic fatigue syndrome and mitochondrial dysfunction." International journal of clinical and experimental medicine 2.1 (2009)

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