I’ve tried a lot of different things on my journey to health, most of which I know now weren’t healthy. In high school I was obsessed with calories. I ate non fat yogurt every day for breakfast (chock full of aspartame and high fructose corn syrup), peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat sandwich thins for lunch, and lean cuisines for dinner. And then, because I was so unsatisfied by the food I was eating, I would go to town on some break-and-brake cookie dough and/or funfetti cake.
It was also around this time that I started having some not so fun digestive issues. I was diagnosed with acid reflux disease and a hiatal hernia when I was 13 and had surgery to fix it, but this was different. I would go days, sometimes a week or two without pooping (sorry guys, but I’m gonna talk about poop so you better get used to it), I was constantly bloated (to the point of looking pregnant) and crampy, and my skin was awful. I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism and put on medication. Of course I didn’t make the connection between the food I was eating and my health. Not yet anyway.
These issues continued through college and being in a constant state of bloat with broken out skin, I had a hard time feeling comfortable in my own skin. I was very self conscious, thinking I was fat and ugly and comparing myself to all the skinny sorority girls with their perfect hair and perfect skin. Not only was I doing myself a disservice with the food I was eating, but I was also impeding my health with damaging self hatred.
In 2011 I discovered the joy that is food blogs and I became obsessed. It was through this obsession that I discovered gluten free eating. I cut out gluten (and most dairy) from my diet and I started feeling a lot better. For the first time I made a decision regarding my diet that was actually a step in the right direction. However, I was still eating processed garbage, the only difference was that the garbage had the fancy gluten free label on it.
Since I was still having digestive issues and hormonal imbalances, I decided to go vegetarian about a year later, thinking this would be good for my health. In fact, besides honey I was basically vegan. I had read all the “research” connecting saturated fat and heart disease and animal protein and cancer and I believed that by consuming only plant products I would solve all my health woes and be happy and vibrant. Although I felt pretty good at first (probably due to a large increase in my intake of vegetables) I soon started to feel even worse than when I started. The cramping became a daily thing and I was never anywhere close to regular. My skin looked like the skin of a pubescent teenager, and I was as moody and unhappy as one too. Clearly, I was not the epitome of health all the “research” claimed I should be.
Fast forward to September of 2013… I was getting a little desperate because of how poorly I was feeling so I started looking into other ways of eating. My meat-loving husband mentioned the paleo diet, probably because he was hoping I’d start eating meat again. I began reading about this way of eating and pretty much every claim went against what I thought I knew about nutrition. Despite this fact, this diet just made sense to me. How does it make more sense to eat some chemical laden product from a factory made of GMO’s and high fructose syrup than it does to eat the animal products humans had been living off of for thousands and thousands of years?
Despite the research, I still had a hard time giving up my non-meat-eating ways and it wasn’t until a paleo friend of mine gave me a stern talking to that I finally gave in and ate some bacon. And boy was it GLORIOUS! I slowly started incorporating animal protein and good healthy fats like ghee , grass fed butter, and lard (yes, I eat lard) and stopped eating the grains and legumes that I subsisted on for over a year. And you know what? The bloating and cramping I had been dealing with on a daily basis subsided. No, it didn’t go away completely right away (that took another year or so of healing), but I noticed a huge improvement. Not only that but I had more energy than I had ever had before. I kept reading more and more, completely geeking out on anything and everything paleo nutrition because it had done more for me and my health than any doctor or specialist ever had.
A few years later now, I feel a thousand times better than I did when I ate that first piece of bacon. However, I did a lot of damage to my body during my low fat, calorie counting days. Back in May of 2014 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the thyroid) that was causing weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, and exacerbating my constipation issues. This diagnosis caused another setback in my journey to health. The Synthroid I had been on for years was no longer sufficient for me to feel good. I was always tired no matter how much I slept, I could barely exercise at all without getting completely wiped out, my memory went to hell, and I was slowly but steadily gaining weight without making any changes to my diet or exercise routine.
I decided to try the Autoimmune Protocol, which is therapeutic type of diet aimed at alleviating autoimmune diseases that eliminates foods that can cause damage to the gut lining and/or incite an immune response; things like nightshades, nuts and seeds, dairy, grains, and eggs. I followed the autoimmune protocol religiously for about three months in the fall of 2014 and started to notice some positive changes. I started eating non AIP foods around Christmas time, but continued to feel better until the following spring. The combination of midterms for my Nutritional Therapy program, traveling, and a job change threw me into a bad flare of my Hashimoto’s. I got a really bad cold and was so exhausted I could hardly move. I continued to push myself though and all my old symptoms came right back; the fatigue, the consistent weight gain, the horrible constipation. It was not a good time for me.
Since then I have been working hard to regain my health. I have prioritized sleep over pretty much anything else, exercise mostly involves walking and some light weight lifting, and I have continued to consume a very healthy, nutrient diet (although not full on AIP anymore). I have also adopted a more accepting mindset. Instead of critiquing my body for everything that it does wrong, I praise my body for all the many things it does right. When I eat something that isn’t the healthiest choice, I don’t fall into a guilt spiral, but choose to forgive myself and try to do better the next time. I found that when I stopped trying so hard to change things about myself, whether it was trying to “cure” my autoimmune disease and digestive issues or get back to a certain weight/aesthetic, and accepted the way things were in that moment, that I was much happier and much less anxious all the time. And even more, I actually started to reach these goals with much less effort.
By simply eating the healthy whole foods my body craves without following any sort of rules or diet, moving when I can but not being crazy intense about it, and prioritizing sleep and stress management, I’ve been able to come to much healthier place, both physically and mentally, than I have ever been before. I love my body for all the things it does correctly and all the things it allows me to do as a human being. I am still not 100% healed. True healing takes time. But I know now that I am on the right path and I feel better and more vibrant every day because of the nourishing foods I put in my body.