Paleo Foundation Story


Hi, we are Karen and Kimberly, also known as the mother-daughter duo behind the Paleo Foundation.  We began the Paleo Foundation with a bold goal of changing the food industry, and changing the way certification organizations operate in January of 2010.   Like all businesses, there’s a good story behind it. 

paleo foundation team information


Hi, we are Karen and Kimberly, also known as the mother-daughter duo behind the Paleo Foundation.  We began the Paleo Foundation with a bold goal of changing the food industry, and changing the way certification organizations operate in January of 2010.   Like all businesses, there’s a good story behind it. 

paleo foundation team information


For Kimberly Eyer, the Paleo Foundation story begins with a mother’s worst nightmare. In 2008, Kimberly watched helplessly as her daughter Karen Pendergrass’ health deteriorated rapidly.  Several months went by, and several physicians were seen, but nobody had an answer to her daughter’s mysterious decline.  As time went by, Kimberly began to fear the worst— that she would lose her daughter.   

“There’s nothing worse than the fear of losing a child,” Kimberly said. “To watch her go from happy and healthy,  doing well in school and enjoying time with her friends, to sleeping most of the day and being completely dejected. Her health was deteriorating quickly, and she couldn’t seem to find an answer.”

“For me,” Karen said, “I was going through the absolute toughest time of my life—and that’s saying something for me…” she trailed off.  “Ok, it wasn’t just because I was feeling horrible —or even that I had gained almost half of my body weight in 3 months and was tracking my calories like a crazy-person—or even because I was sleeping all day and losing my mind.  No, [the toughest] part for me was that everyone thought I was crazy… Especially my physicians.

Pendergrass had seen several doctors for her conditions but struggled to find someone who would take her condition as seriously as she was.  She recalls,  “In fact, one doctor I saw for months handed me this prescription for Zoloft.  I said some choice words, and walked out.”   Adding, “I mean,  I get that I sounded crazy— well I was literally going crazy— but that wasn’t the answer.  Something was wrong with me…  and I knew Zoloft wasn’t going to fix it. Whatever ‘it’ was. ”
It took almost an entire year before Karen Pendergrass saw an Internal Medicine physician at St. Lukes in Kansas City, Missouri, who took her seriously.  After looking over her charts and listening to the frustrations she expressed with other physicians,  he decided to draw her labs again to see if he could find something that could explain her symptoms.

“He called me to tell me I needed to come in immediately and to get more tests” she recalls. “Only this time, he said I needed someone else to drive me.”   

Upon her arrival, he explained the results to her, but he was incensed.  “I can’t believe they didn’t look for this, where was the differential diagnoses? I can’t believe this is how physicians still treat patients. How did they ignore everything here?” Finally, Pendergrass had found someone who was taking her seriously.  After several more tests and visits to referred specialists,   Pendergrass finally had the answers she had desperately been waiting for.  Diagnosed with a myriad of health conditions— including Celiac Disease, Autoimmune Liver Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Schizophrenia, and PCOS— the only question that remained was simple: What now?

Well, first things first, a gluten-free diet was in order.  However, another group of physicians at St. Lukes Hospital— a group of ENTs—  suggested that the Paleo Diet was superior to simply adhering to a gluten-free diet. Kimberly had had success with the diet for seasonal allergies, so Karen began a strict Paleo Diet.  8 days later, her hypoxic, swollen legs turned pink. And she slept 15 hours, instead of 20. The edema from the liver disease and severe anemia began to improve.

Soon thereafter, Karen decided to take a trip to France with some friends from college.  She decided that a short “mind-over-matter” deviation from her diet wouldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, the deviation was a complete mistake— all of her symptoms soon reappeared— down to the psychosis.  “Mind-over-matter” experiment was a complete disaster, and suddenly the Paleo Diet she was on didn’t work.  Her new labs showed the extent of her mistake — her iron stores (which were already dangerously low)  had taken another downturn.  She began experiencing crippling anxiety attacks, her swelling returned, and her skin became gray and sloughed off like a snake.

She decided to, in her words,  “Paleo harder.”  Eating a strict diet of grass-fed meats and fresh fruits and vegetables,  she saw no improvement.  The meats that had initially been her savior were now making her worse.  She was afraid that she had ruined her health for good “over a stupid baguette.”  For months, there was no improvement and she was back to square one.




“She just wasn’t getting better,” Kimberly recalled. “We were at wit’s end.”

I thought I was going to die. Not in the figurative sense, either.  At first, I thought, finally I have an answer. Finally, I can get better— but no. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how strict I was… everything  I ate made me sick. ”

But their lives were about to change.

One fateful evening, Karen and Kimberly went grocery shopping.  “Karen had been crying moments before the whole thing happened,” Kimberly recounted. “She asked me if it was even possible to be sick with everything she ate.  And of course, yeah, there are people who are sensitive to everything.  It was obvious that she was distraught,  her face was red, and you could tell she just wanted to give up.  I’d have done anything to help her, but I felt absolutely helpless to do anything. Again.”

Neither of them knew that the events that would happen in the next few minutes would be one of the most pivotal points in their lives.  Still distraught, the pair went to the meat counter.  Their last bastion of hope was the “Grass-fed” beef. Although it was something Karen had needed to get her iron stores up— and was exactly what the doctor ordered— it was still making her sick.  Here’s how she explains what happened next:

“I was standing there thinking to myself, none of this makes sense. There’s no reason why I should be having trouble with grass-fed beef.  So I walked up the butcher and said,  “Hey, is this grass-fed?” And the guy goes, “Sure, yeah, it’s Organic and it’s labeled grass-fed.” 

“Now mind you, we had been buying this beef for several months at this point, OK? Months.”

“So I take a step back, right?  I look at the chicken, then I look at the pork. Motioning towards the chicken and pork, I say to Kimberly, “That’s a whole bunch of “nope” (because it made me sick) … but why the grass-fed beef?”  So I stood there a few more minutes thinking to myself, “Something about this doesn’t make sense.”  Finally, I thought to myself, “I have to be missing something.  Think brain, think.” So I decided to keep digging.”

So Karen walked back up to the meat counter, with Kimberly standing behind her.  And she asked the butcher, this time a bit more inquisitively… “Are you sure that this is grass-fed?”

“Well….” The butcher said in a drawn-out fashion, “It’s grass-fed for the first 7 months, but then it’s finished with corn and soy for the last three months.”   Astonished, Karen snapped back, “Then why is it labeled grass-fed?”  To which the butcher then replied, “Because a cow can’t get the nutrition it needs on grasses alone,  it has to be fed corn to get the nutrition it needs to survive.”

Karen quickly responded “Who told you that?!”, but the butcher was adamant about the fact that cows couldn’t survive on grasses alone “because they were ruminants.”   

It wasn’t the physicians that didn’t believe her or the frustration with her illness that caused Karen to finally ‘lose it’.  No, it was in this moment where she realized that the food she had believed was truly grass-fed, the food she paid an extra 2 dollars more per pound for— and more importantly,  the very food she needed to get better — wasn’t even grass-fed. 

Karen had snapped. She couldn’t believe she had been misled so badly.  In her fit of rage, Kimberly tried to calm her by pointing out that it was a “Top-down issue”,  but she was incorrigible, and carried on anyway. That is until she was escorted out of the area. 

“Look, you’d be pissed off too,” she said of the event, defensively.  “Anyone would be in my position.”  Although she knew nothing about the food industry at the time, she left the store exclaiming that it  “Wasn’t over”. 
And she was right.



She believed that not only did their need to be a better way to identify foods that met the tenets of the Paleo Diet,  the term ‘Paleo’ needed to be safeguarded so that it, too, would not suffer the same fate as other labels whose meanings had been lost with improper usage.  After some research, it was clear that she was not alone in her frustration. Others who had used the Paleo Diet to treat their own health conditions also complained about mislabeling practices, and it became clear that mislabeling practices were rampant within the food industry.  Unaccepting of the status quo, she decided she would take matters into her own hands.  The next day, she wrote out a business plan with the help of her friend Jacques to create a label for Paleo foods in the strictest sense of the word— A label designed to certify farms and ranches, fruits and vegetables, nuts and berries.

Two weeks after writing her business plan, she and Kimberly flew out to San Diego to hear Robb Wolf speak in a small conference room at a hotel. Robb’s words shook her to her very core,  hours after hearing his impassioned speech, she decided that she would give up her lifelong dreams to pursue her new mission to help others in her shoes, to ensure that foods were exactly what they said they were, and to play an active role in the movement that saved her life.
“I knew that [the Paleo Diet] was going to be huge. It didn’t matter that nobody knew what it was yet. You can’t have something like this save people’s lives and them not talk about it.  It was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.” But she knew she would need help. So she convinced her mother, Kimberly Eyer, to embark on this journey with her. 

“Of course, we knew nothing about how to go about certifying food and farms,” Kimberly says.  Nevertheless, captivated by her daughter’s passion, she sold her house and quit her job at a local Children’s Hospital. The two moved to Los Angeles, California, and established the Paleo Foundation on January 1st, 2010— less than 3 months after the argument. That January, the first Paleo Certification was introduced to help the Paleo Community easily identify products that met the strictures of the diet, while maintaining the integrity of the ‘Paleo’ label.

“Oh my god, what were we thinking?” they both chuckle.



The first certification program,  the Paleo Approved label,  was intended for farms and animals adhering to species-appropriate diets.  Karen and Kimberly spent two years learning about farms and farm animals in order to understand the complexities involved and write standards but didn’t certify many farms. 

“The farmers didn’t see the benefit that we saw, at least not initially.  And at the exact same time, several factions were forming within the community— it was clear that the Paleo Diet meant different things to different people”, Karen explains.

She continues, “It wasn’t until after a string of shelf-stable food companies asked for certification that they even considered having a program for those types of products.  Initially, we turned them down because we didn’t think we knew enough about this part of the food industry because we had spent so much time and effort researching farms and ranches, and species-appropriate diets.”   

However, after a few more requests, it was obvious that this was warranted more consideration. According to Pendergrass, this was the thought process:

“I thought, OK if we certify shelf-stable food products, it’s going to cause a bit of a rift between us and the community.  There a lot of people who want these products to just be labeled “gluten-free”. 
She continues, “But then I realized, the rift exists no matter what we do.  And, there’s a huge difference between “gluten-free” and “Paleo.” Moreover, if it’s truly our mission to help people find this diet and find their own path to making this a sustainable lifestyle for themselves and that includes shelf-stable foods then the choice is clear:  We figure it out and make it happen.”  

“Besides… what about the Abby’s of the world?” Karen says.



“As a nurse, I loved seeing the immediate impact that I had on my patients. But with our certification, I didn’t see the impact we were having and for me, that was disheartening.  That changed in 2013 because of a girl named Abby.  Abby was the wife of my son’s best friend from high school, and Abby had gotten sick like Karen had in an almost identical fashion, with strikingly similar diagnoses.  However, she had been sick a few months longer than Karen was before we found an answer” Kimberly says. 

Unlike Karen, Abby had gone the traditional route.  She didn’t make dietary changes, and opted for pharmaceutical interventions, instead.  At the time, the Paleo Diet wasn’t well known.  Neither Abby nor her husband knew the extent of the impact that a diet like the Paleo Diet had on Karen.

“When Abby had taken a turn for the worst and ended up in the hospital, her husband reached out to my son, Jonathan.  Jonathan told his friend about his sister, and how she had managed to halt the progression of her illnesses by changing her diet.  Jonathan immediately put his friend in touch with Karen.”

Abby’s husband pleaded with Karen for help, but it was too late.  Two days later, Abby died from organ failure at the age of 30. 

“That was the wake-up call— and it shook every single one of us to the bone.  My heart went out to Abby’s family, and I choked at the realization that this could have easily been my daughter. I still choke up thinking about it.  She was only 2 years older than Karen.
My mission to help people find a way to learn about the Paleo Diet— and find a way to make this a sustainable lifestyle— was invigorated. While I could not see the immediate importance of our work, I knew that what we were doing had the potential to be far more impactful than anything I had done as an operating room nurse in a children’s hospital.  I knew that what we were doing was an important part of helping people like Karen and Abby find the Paleo Diet in the first place, and stick with it. 

No mother should have to go through that, ever.  So like I said, when I feel disheartened that I can’t see the immediate impact of our work here, I think of Abby.  Karen does, too. All the time. ” Kimberly says.

“All the [time]”, Karen agrees solemnly.  “So yeah, do I believe in what we do? Yeah, I do.” 


We believe that we can make a difference in the lives of people like Karen, and like Abby. Thank you for hearing our story.
We hope to serve you well.

karen pendergrass paleo foundation story
daffodils for abby


We believe that we can make a difference in the lives of people like Karen, and like Abby. Thank you for hearing our story.
We hope to serve you well.

karen pendergrass paleo foundation story
daffodils for abby