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Positively Primal: Kelly Schmidt, RD, Explains the Paleo Diet™

RD Kelly Schmidt gives insight into her experience

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

Happy Registered Dietitian (RD) Nutritionist Day! I often learn from the tried-and-true tips dietitians have to offer about nutrition and healthy eating. We have previously featured information from several RDs, such as Tammy Randall, Siri Zimmerman and Catherine Genthner. Today I’d like to introduce you to another dietitian, Kelly Schmidt, RD, LDN. Kelly specializes in primal eating, also known as the Paleo Diet™, and she lives with type 1 diabetes.

Kelly Schmidt
Kelly Schmidt

“When I turned 8 years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” Kelly said. “The silver lining of that diagnosis is that it made me become very passionate about nutrition. Going into dietetics, I knew I wanted to impact people’s lives with nutrition. I hope to enlighten people on how food may help them. I just feel like it’s my purpose in life.”

Kelly’s focus on the Paleo Diet is based on her personal experience. In 2009, she was struggling with her blood sugar management. Around the same time, she volunteered at a health conference for healthcare professionals, and sought advice from the presenters regarding her blood sugar management. “They said, ‘First thing, take gluten out of your diet,’” she recalls. “I had been tested for celiac disease twice and I was negative. But they said to try it anyway. So I took gluten out of my diet and I felt a difference.”

After going gluten-free, Kelly began to take notice of other food groups and how they made her feel. “I started really paying attention to what certain foods impacted my blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, and started taking other food groups out of my diet,” she said. “Then my boyfriend, now my husband, informed me I was doing this thing called Paleo. So I started drowning myself in research, books, blogs and podcasts related to Paleo.”

The Paleo Diet emphasizes eating whole foods. “People who follow the Paleo Diet try to eat food in the purest form,” Kelly said. “It includes fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and high-quality protein. By high-quality protein I mean pasture-raised pork, grass-fed beef, organic eggs and organic, free-range poultry. You also want healthy fats, like coconut oil, olive oil and avocados. Some people say raw, grass-fed dairy is okay but most dairy is not included, and neither are grains, beans, vegetable oils or sugar.”

The Paleo Diet may not be appropriate for all people with diabetes. Anyone interested in starting a new diet should always speak with their healthcare provider and/or Certified Diabetes Educator* before making dietary changes.

For those interested in trying the Paleo Diet, Kelly suggests starting in steps. “Definitely take on the diet in phases,” she said. “For example, start with just eating gluten-free and using gluten-free grains – rice, quinoa, gluten-free oats, millet – as transitional foods. Next, cut back on the vegetable oils and sugar, then try to cut out dairy and beans, and then all grains. When removing the grains entirely, still get some carbohydrate-containing foods like sweet potatoes, root vegetables and low-sugar fruits like berries and citrus.”

Proceed at your own pace, says Kelly. “Try one new recipe that is based on whole foods every other week or every week if you can,” she said. “And just pay attention to how food makes you feel. When you feel better, it can be more motivation not to be even tempted by old favorite foods.”

Another key to the Paleo Diet is planning. “I always say a health goal starts with a grocery list, so your grocery shopping is more efficient,” she said. “I also make things in bulk. And I think about what meals I’m going to have tomorrow or the following few days so I’m not just throwing something together at the last minute.”

Kelly believes Paleo doesn’t need to be complicated. “I always say my poor-man packed lunch is a bag of lettuce, a can of tuna, hard-boiled eggs and any other vegetables I have sitting in the fridge,” she said. “It’s definitely manageable; it just takes a plan.” Books and podcasts can also provide additional information and insight on the Paleo lifestyle.

In addition to her nutritional counseling services, Kelly is also involved in the local JDRF chapter. “When I was young, my mom put me in JDRF activities like the Easter Egg hunts, Christmas events and the camps,” Kelly said. “When I opened my business in 2012, I wanted to make sure I was giving back and to me, nothing was better than to give back to JDRF. So I reached out to the Chicago chapter to join the Young Leaders Committee. I love the Ron Santo Walk to Cure Diabetes® in Chicago because it’s right along the water and you meet a lot of new people. Everyone on the committee and their families participate. It’s a great community event.”

Always on the move, Kelly frequently participates in races, sometimes alongside her husband and sister. “My favorite race was probably my first half-marathon in Chicago in 2008 because I never thought I could do it, especially living with type 1 diabetes,” she said. “I thought, ‘oh, gosh, two hours of running; how is my blood sugar going to react?’ Little by little, I understood how to cope with the training and blood sugar management and I did it.”

I appreciate Kelly’s tip to start the switch to Paleo in phases. Much like Denise Elliott’s project management approach to achieving health goals, it can help to break projects into manageable steps. What has helped you to make dietary changes? Please share your experience in the comment section below. My thanks to Kelly for sharing her story and insight.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Kelly Schmidt received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

The Paleo Diet is a registered service mark of The Paleo Diet, LLC.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” is a certification mark owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

Walk to Cure Diabetes is a registered service mark of JDRF International.

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