Updated: Jan 29, 2020
Well, here we are. It has taken me more time than I imagined to put this journey into words, because it is emotional and intense to string together all of the random, but beautifully orchestrated things that brought me to the place I am in now.
Let me start by saying I want to tell my story in the most authentic way I possibly can. My heart literally overflows with gratitude each day of my life for the healing that a healthier lifestyle and way of eating brought to my body; and that God had this amazing plan set for my life and purpose all along.
I want anyone and everyone reading this to understand, health is a constant journey- never a destination; and this is a story about how no matter who you are, where you are, and what you currently feel in mind, body, or soul- there is hope for better.
Starting at the beginning...
I grew up happy. My childhood was truly great, and I've realized that's more rare than I imagined it should be. My parents wholeheartedly loved and took great care of me and my brother, and I strive to one day be the parents they were and are to me. Our family, like most others, ate SAD or the Standard American Diet. We consumed lots of full-fat milk, drank tons of Tang, had candy and sweets very often, and snacked on goldfish, crackers, and PB&J's. Breakfast was usually waffles with syrup, cereal, or pop-tarts. Our dinner plate looked like a piece of meat, canned vegetables, and a starch. Restaurant food was a treat, and fast-food was very common for our lunches and snacks. We loved McDonalds so much, I had a birthday party there! I still feel a weird emotional attachment to their french fries...
I was always very active as a child, which was definitely a good thing for me. Had to get the sugar rush out somehow ay? We spent most of our days outside running around, swimming, riding bikes, or making snowmen when winter came. And although we were eating a 'typical' diet and had plenty of exercise, love, and sunshine- I still got sick often. I had stomach problems from as far back as I can remember. My mother always says I was a good baby, except that my stomach would hurt and cause me to be upset. I pretty much got the flu every year, and if someone else in the family had a cold- so did I. I remember having a terrible urinary tract infection as a very young girl, and I had to go to the hospital just so they could get me to go to the bathroom because I was in so much pain. Some of my most vivid memories of my health issues were me laying on the bathroom floor all night because I was sick and throwing up, or crying to my parents that my stomach hurt so bad. I would get gas 'bubbles' that would get stuck in my stomach and cause me intense pain. Those were very miserable nights.
When I turned 13..
This is a pretty monumental part of my story. This is the day I had my first chronic migraine. My mother and her mother have always had migraines, and so it was assumed I would get them as well. This is also the year I started my period, and so my hormones dramatically changed- resulting in the start of my terrible 'genetic' curse of debilitating migraines.
I was participating in some charity work with a youth group I was part of and we were going to elderly people's homes and helping with yard work. We arrived at a man's home, and started working outside- raking leaves, pulling up weeds, etc. After working for a couple hours, he invited us in for doughnuts and chocolate milk. He wasn't the cleanest man- his house was in disarray and it smelled a little weird, so we were a little suspicious of eating his doughnuts. But of course, that did not stop us. After finishing off the doughnuts and milk, we headed to the next house. But in the car, I started feeling really sick to my stomach. I thought it was the milk, and that it was sour. I told my best friend I was feeling sick and felt as if I needed to throw up. My youth group leaders decided to drive me home. Then, weird things started happening to me. All of a sudden, my right eye started flashing light- all I could see was bright intermittent bursts of light. It caused me to lose vision in that eye, and it scared me. I hated the feeling. It was so bright and unusual, and I had no control over it. The best way to describe this feeling is to imagine staring into the flash of a camera for a good minute, and then looking away. It then transitioned to a slower pulse and less bright light, and everything became very fuzzy in that right eye. It looked as if I was staring at the horizon on a flat plain in the heat- blurry and distorted. I later found out this was called an aura. When the aura began I started getting a slight headache above that right eye. As the aura finished out, it was an intense pain on the right side of my head. At this point, I made it home and I was laying in bed. My parents fed me ibuprofen and caffeine for the headache, but it grew increasingly worse. It became so intense I started to cry and panic.
Describing an intense, debilitating migraine to someone who has never had one is a difficult thing to do. Over my many years of having them, the best way I have figured to describe it is this- it is as if someone has cut your skull open, stuck a nail into one spot and is now using a metal baseball bat to tap into that nail, repeatedly. Pair that with a sick stomach, loss of vision, and parts of your body going numb due to the pain and you've got yourself an atrocious physical experience. I have often heard people say 'Oh, I don't feel good right now, I'm having a migraine' while they continue working or participating in an activity. This has always baffled me, simply because my migraines are so darn intense there is no way I could be standing upright, proceeding through normal life while experiencing one. My migraines, like my mothers, last exactly 6 hours. Always. There has never been an exception. After having one, I feel as if I have gone through a near-death experience. I am utterly exhausted, and I still have a lingering headache for the rest of the night. All I can do is go to sleep. That first migraine was so intense and scary, my parents were afraid it could be something serious with my brain function, so they took me to the hospital. At the hospital, they determined I had a migraine, and it was most likely due to starting my period that year. They explained it was a genetic situation, and I would most likely have them for life. They gave me an IV with morphine, and I writhed in pain on the bed until it set in a half an hour later. Even with the morphine, it was barely tolerable- but I was able to lay still. Sadly, this was only the beginning of my hospital trips and morphine drips.
Fast forward to my teenage years.
I still ate the same type of diet, but it became much more about eating out than anything else. I loved eating out. Restaurant food was SO GOOD to me and I didn't have to make it, so that was a win in my book. Fast food during cheerleading and soccer practice was common, and school lunches consisted of pizza, breadsticks, soda, candy, and chips. At home I mostly ate processed food out of boxes, frozen meals, and the occasional piece of fruit. I also had at least one soda per day.
In middle and high-school I would always be so tired after lunch, which resulted in me napping in my classes. I was smart and enjoyed learning, but often felt tired, dull, and un-interested in listening or trying to do well. Cheerleading and soccer were things I truly enjoyed, and so I loved participating but any other kind of physical activity was dreadful to me. Gym class was the worst because I was tired and didn't see why I should have to do sit-ups, play volleyball, or run. Also because the gym had no a/c in the hot seasons, and no heat in the cold seasons. I thought it was unfair then, and I still do now! My mom would do cardio workouts, and take aerobic walks and often asked me to join- and I was not the least bit interested in that. I didn't have the energy or motivation to do that, even though I knew exercise was good for me. I was still struggling all the time with my stomach issues and was never not bloated. Bloated was a state of being for me. And as a high-school girl, I just wanted a cute flat stomach like other girls- I mean I was petite and thin everywhere else in my body, so why did my stomach have to be so chubby and bloated all the time? I used to think the remedy for this would be to just not eat. I never had an actual eating disorder, but I knew if I was going somewhere and wanted to wear tight clothing, I definitely couldn't eat before I went- because food meant I would bloat. In my mind, everyone else must have been feeling the same way. Food just causes bloating- it's the same as feeling 'full'...right? But then there were the mornings I woke up and didn't even eat yet.. and I was still incredibly bloated. What the heck?
I also see now that I had a lot of negative thoughts about my body during this time and even going into my time in college. I thought being short was cute, but not pretty. No one ever called short girls pretty, because models were tall and so being tall meant being pretty. I wished I could be tall. I hated how big my thighs were, I thought my feet were pretty ugly, I despised the way my stomach looked, and my Indian nose was just too... Indian looking. Why did I not like the way I looked? I was actually called pretty, often. People started telling me I should be a model. But man, that's the problem. It doesn't matter in the least how much other people validate you, it will never be enough if you don't love yourself. But, us women have so many factors working against us when it comes to loving and respecting our bodies. Society, as we all hopefully know, promotes an incredibly unrealistic sense of beauty- a one-size-fits all approach. And just as no one diet will work for everybody in life, the same rule applies to beauty. As I see it, beauty is about the inner workings of your heart- how hard you love, how much empathy you can show, and how much gratitude you feel on a daily basis. But, thats another post for another time. I think I was also really fighting to learn my identity, as everyone is at this age, and as a girl you are constantly told what your identity is- how you present yourself in clothing and makeup, how sweet and quiet you remain no matter how you feel, and how 'great' of assets you have. I remember in high-school often hearing girls describe other girls purely based off looks 'you know, she's the one with the weird red hair?' or 'it's that girl that always wears super tight leggings and she's so fat- why does she do that anyway..' And of course the boys had their own descriptions, usually not to do with hair or fashion.... It's vitally important as women, to set examples for the younger generation of our gender. To instill in them that pretty Instagram photos and lots of likes WILL ultimately damage your evolving identity, because that is a system based on looks = likes = worth. To encourage girls to be nice to one another, and to fully understand at that age, we are working together as a gender to be accepting and loving of who we are, as we are. And ultimately to know who their Creator is, and why they are here- because then there is not a chance of them getting stuck in the culture of their body shape defining their identity. I don't remember anyone ever speaking to me on these issues at that age. It actually was not until I changed my diet and lifestyle that my mind cleared and God started working on those broken pieces of my body image and I started to realize these truths.
I was still having migraines. The first few years of having them, they weren't always consistent- and I usually ended up in the hospital on a morphine drip to make it through them. The only thing worse than having the migraines, was the fear and anxiety of when I would have the next one. My eyes were so sensitive, bright lights could trigger a migraine at any moment, so I had to constantly avoid anything bright hitting my eyes. One time I went outside to shovel snow off the driveway for my mom, and even though I was wearing sunglasses, the bright sun on the snow triggered a migraine. It seemed like they often happened at the worst times- during a busy time at work, on a trip to six flags with friends, out to dinner with a boyfriend, or before cheerleading pep rallies. My only choice was to leave whatever I was doing, and go home to suffer. Having migraines ruined many days of my life, and fun events.
Finally, a doctor at the hospital suggested we try seeing a neurologist so I could be prescribed medicine for the onset of a migraine. After waiting for a month to get into a neurologist, I was prescribed some big blue pills that were supposed to help reduce pain when I had a migraine. This neurologist never asked me about my diet or lifestyle factors. In fact, no one at the hospital had either. As far as they were concerned, migraines were my genetic disposition, and only medicine was going to help. Naturally, it did not. The blue pills made me so sick to my stomach, I would throw them up, and when I could keep them down, they barely helped with the pain. So, we made another trip to the neurologist. We had another 10 minute visit, and he decided to put me on a beta blocker called propranolol; 10mg, two times a day. Putting a sixteen year old on a blood thinner used for high-blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and tremors- was a little sketchy. But, he was genuinely trying to help me and I was willing to do anything.
The medicine worked! I couldn't even believe my luck. A medicine that would prevent me from getting migraines. It felt miraculous to me. But, if I missed even one pill- it would immediately trigger a migraine. One year, I almost had a panic attack because I was going to church camp at the beach, and we hadn't gotten my prescription refilled in enough time for me to take it. I knew I would be in immense pain and this would ruin my fun time at the beach. I desperately wanted to go and be with my friends and not have to worry. Thankfully, the pharmacy made some exceptions for us, and I was able to get 10 pills to tide me over.
Of course, all medicine has side effects, and I have always been highly sensitive to, well everything. Including medicine. I was even more tired than before I started the medicine, taking naps every single day no matter how many hours I slept. My vision was often hazy and I would see a lot of floaters in my vision- even though when tested I had perfect vision. And the worst side effect was how dreadfully cold I was. My hands and feet were so cold all the time, and body parts would fall asleep very easily if I sat cross-legged or slept in one position for long. I should note, during these years, my period was never consistent, and I would go months without having one. This should of have been the first sign to the doctors that my hormones were way off. But, here I was- sixteen, armed with some little orange pills, and stoked to have found a 'cure' for my migraines.
I really enjoyed college. I went to a community college in St. Louis and studied graphic design, and my teachers and classes were amazing. During this time, I was going out to lunch every day with my best friend. Fried food was the norm, with a side of soda or lemonade. If I ate at school, it was generally candy or pizza. I succeeded in all of my design classes, because I loved them so much- but I would get so sleepy in my classes listening to the teacher talk about every function of Photoshop. I hated that, because I wanted to be focused and attentive. This was important to me. What was not important to me? Math. And it just so happened that my math class was right after lunch. Remember how incredibly fatigued I would get after eating? So math class was generally a time for sleeping. I nearly failed my first semester, which irritated me. I knew I was smart enough to pass. So, each semester going forward I took my math class first thing in the morning so I would be more awake. But I still felt like I wasn't getting it. Numbers have always been difficult for me, but in every aspect of life, when I set my mind to get something done- I do. I just felt like nothing was sticking. My brain would feel clouded and fuzzy while trying to focus. I was honestly trying my hardest, I even attended lengthy tutoring sessions. In the present, I know that this was due to something called 'brain fog'- dysfunctions in focus, learning, and memory that can create brief episodes of confusion, disorientation and frustration. I was filling my body with toxic chemicals, processed foods, and the like. It didn't matter how much will-power I had- my brain was being clouded by all of the junk it was trying to filter out, and it did not have the capacity to also work it's very hardest to help me complete the subject most difficult for me. I believe if I was feeding my body the nutrition it needed and craved, I would have been much more focused and my brain could have processed everything I needed it too. Optimal brain function is just one stellar effect of eating a whole foods diet. Oh, and if you were wondering- I failed math. Twice. The second time by only 5 points. Thankfully, I have no problem converting measurements in cooking now ;)
When I turned 20, I decided in my head that it couldn't be good to be taking medicine for years, and maybe, just maybe, my hormones had leveled out since I was out of my teens and I would no longer have migraines. So, I stopped taking the medicine. And for whatever reason, I didn't have a migraine for a few months. I was hopeful, to say the least. I was done with college, and had no idea what I was doing next. I was waiting tables, working a photography job, and just enjoying not being in school. I tried to start working out at home- doing cardio videos and running around the block- and boy did I hate it. SO much. It was not fun, I felt so tired the entire time, and I never saw any 'results.' I still didn't like my pudgy stomach and big thighs, but I didn't like working out even more. So I gave up on that. I accepted that I would never be a girl that enjoyed exercise. The only thing I slightly enjoyed, was yoga. Yoga taught me patience, the power of breath-work, and what it means to really feel and know your body. I still only did it occasionally though.
Of course, the day came when I got a migraine again. I was so upset. I thought they were gone. I didn't want to have to suffer like this. At this point, I started accepting my fate- I would have chronic migraines for the rest of my life.
Another bad time for me and my body, was right after I turned 21. I was at home, trying to pass a bowel movement (you talk about elimination A LOT in the health scene - just a warning!), and it hurt so bad to go, I started to bleed. My stomach was so very uncomfortable, and I knew I had to go. I was using suppositories fairly often, and it was usually the only time I was able to go. I tried using one, and nothing. Tried again, and nothing. I got legitimately angry and had a meltdown. I was bawling and crying out 'why do I have these stomach problems? Am I the only person who goes through this? I am SO miserable and I just want to be NORMAL!' I sat on the floor and cried for awhile, and wondered why I had such terrible genes that had caused my body to fail me. During these times, I would often just go to bed because my stomach was so uncomfortable I was ready to be out of misery.
Another thing I suffered with during this time, was chronic acne. I felt so fortunate throughout high-school to have escaped acne... but it was just a delayed issue that came with age. For a time, it was cystic, and I still have a scar on my forehead from one atrocious cystic pimple. I never realized how terribly insecure acne can make a person, until it happened to me. I always felt like people were staring at my pimples, and I didn't like getting close to people in fear they would see the bumps through my foundation. This was another issue that I went to the doctor to try and get help for, because I didn't want facial scars. They prescribed a cream for my face, which I stopped using after a month because it didn't help - it just made my skin super dry and flaky. Acne probably gave me some of the highest feelings of insecurity I've ever had.
When I was 21, I decided I was moving away from St. Louis..
I had visited Colorado recently, and absolutely fell in love with it. The constant sunshine, the pride the people had to live there, and of course- the mountains. I still love the mountains as much as I did the first time I saw them, and every time I see them again I am filled with the utmost wonder. I had also started getting into photography. The passion developed naturally- I just saw beautiful things everywhere I went and I had to capture them. And boy, the mountains ignited a deeper spark of passion for nature photography inside of me than I could have ever imagined. So I bought a Nikon off Craigslist, packed up a U-haul, and left the big city I grew up in. Moving to Colorado, was one of the best decisions of my life so far. I discovered so much about myself, that I don't believe I would have if I would have stayed in St. Louis. Again- another post for another time! I'll get way too sappy and distracted if I start on my Colorado times. But, this season of my life is what I like to refer to as my awakening.
This was my first time living away from my parents, and I quickly realized neither me or my boyfriend really knew how to cook. He knew how to make a frozen pizza, and I could throw together some mac n' cheese. We decided eating out was easier for us and tasted a lot better. We were enjoying our new found freedom so much, and part of that was eating out whenever and wherever we wanted. When we weren't having pizza, Chinese, or Mexican food from a restaurant, we were eating processed junk food and frozen meals.
I also started working at a coffee drive-thru during this time. Again, one of the happiest times of my life- I absolutely loved this job and the people I met while working there. I also loved all the free coffee and treats we had while working.. I usually had a coffee with flavored syrups when I got there in the morning, a frozen coffee with caramel, chocolate, and whipped cream mid-day, and then a Redbull with flavored syrup when I left to finish my day. I loved all of their sweet drinks (which is what they are known for), and I craved them every time I worked. This coffee spot was the most popular where I lived, and we were incredibly busy in the morning hours. We straight up hustled in that little drive-through spot. We really relied on each person working to hold up their part of the process- or else it wouldn't work out well. It was like a well-oiled machine. If one person or part failed in someway, it effected all of us- including our loyal customers.
One particularly busy morning, I was pulling shots of espresso and started noticing weird flashes in my eye while watching the machine. My heart immediately started racing, because I knew what was coming. I told myself I would work through it, because I couldn't stand the thought of interrupting the flow of things to admit I couldn't stay. The aura proceeded to happen, and I just kept pushing through- pretending it wasn't happening. But then my hands started going numb, and I lost complete vision in my eye. I knew I had to stop, because I wasn't able to concentrate on our complex drink recipes with no vision and numb hands. I told my manager what was happening, and she told me to sit and chill for a minute to see if it went away. Of course, I knew that the worst was yet to come- it was not about to go away. Having debilitating migraines is hard for people to understand, and empathy is a hard character trait to come by in a lot of people in general. I explained I had to leave, but my manager wanted me to call and figure out who could come in for me before leaving. I started calling people, as the pounding began above my eye. I got ahold of someone who would be able to come in, but not for 30 more minutes. I let my manager know, and told her I was leaving. She was very obviously unpleased. I went home and cried and writhed in pain. I loved that job and the last thing I wanted to do was leave my co-workers and friends in a bad situation, but I literally had no choice. I had so much guilt about leaving, even though it was a true emergency situation for me. Migraines were literally ruining my life.
One week, a few months after living in Colorado, my boyfriend and I had a particularly awful week of dietary choices- literally eating out for every meal. And we were seriously feeling the effects of it. We both admitted to feeling pretty awful, and wanting to make a change. I knew a big part of this would mean learning to cook. *eye-roll* So one afternoon, I sat down on the couch to figure out what I could start making that was healthier. I started reading a recipe and it briefly stated that dairy was not good for you. What???? I was thinking, well that's insane. Dairy is necessary and good for you. Calcium, duh! But, I decided to google the question 'is dairy bad for you?' I can still remember this moment perfectly. I started reading a web article from someone named Dr. Mark Hyman. It was a thorough explanation of the effects dairy has on your body. He explained that most of the population is actually lactose intolerant and has no idea of it- which can cause excessive gas, constipation, hormonal imbalance, sinus issues and many other problems that I was experiencing! Needless to say, I was baffled. I had NEVER heard this logic before, but here was a credible and intelligent resource describing some of the main ailments I was experiencing in my body- all connected to dairy. The beauty of life changing moments are this- you are often amazed, confused, and enlightened all at the same time. And that was me in this moment.
I decided to experiment with this theory, by cutting all dairy out of my diet. I didn't even know how long I would do it for or any specifics, I just wanted to see if this was true- and in my head I knew the only way to really know, was to experiment with my own body. I also want to note here that life has a way of coming full circle when you are seeking positive changes for yourself. Two years after reading that random googled article, Dr. Mark Hyman was one of my first class teachers at the Integrative Institute of Nutrition, and quickly became one of my favorite Functional Medicine Doctors. I have since read several of his books, often use his articles to send to people for information, and listen to his podcast religiously. He has a true passion to get the message of health to people in the world, and you can feel it whenever you listen to him speak, or through his writing. His work clearly changed my path, and I can't imagine how many others.
I had no clue how many food products were considered dairy until I started trying to avoid it. Milk was obvious, but cheese? I loved cheese.. especially at Taco Bell! Ice cream? Would I never get to have a beloved cold summer treat again? And milk chocolate.. this one almost broke me! Chocolate was my saving grace when I was suffering with PMS or craving comfort late at night. And hardest of all was that dairy was added to SO many products I was consuming out of boxes, packages, etc. I never knew, because I was only taught to consume, not to question or read labels. But, no matter how much I craved pizza, my daily frozen drink at work, or a candy bar- I did not consume dairy for a full week after reading that article. I was determined, because I was that miserable in my body.
This week changed my entire life forever. I stopped having gas, which I thought was a completely normal human experience. When I woke up, I could breathe clearly- my nose wasn't stuffed up as it usually was. I had been feeling sick to my stomach in the mornings, and that was gone completely. And best of all, the bloating started to recede. My stomach felt normal in the mornings, and I could eat without having a bloated and uncomfortable feeling. After that first week, I started having a bowel movement once a day, where it used to be once every few days. Of course, all of this felt amazing to me. I craved more of this transformation. I was inspired to learn more, because I was feeling so good just from cutting out dairy- something I never would have imagined doing. I knew I was going to have to start making my own food, because it was hard to avoid dairy, sugar, and processed foods when going out to eat.
I went to the library to look at cookbooks, and I picked up a vegan cookbook called RAW by Bernadette Bohan. The author was from Dublin. I had no idea what a 'vegan' even was at this point, much less what raw food was! I was mesmerized by the beautiful colors of the foods in the book, and amazed at all these natural foods I had never even heard of. It was completely over-whelming, and intriguing. I read her brief biography at the beginning of the book- she had healed herself of cancer by switching to a 'raw' diet. That blew my mind. You could heal yourself from cancer? I thought that was something yet to be discovered? But yet, this lady had done just that, simply by eating all of these colorful plant foods. I sat in the library for hours that day, reading vegan cookbooks. I realized a common theme in all of these books- these cooks highly discouraged sugar consumption and they mostly ate plants. So, again I turned to Google and started reading about the dangers of sugar, and the disastrous effects it has on the mind and body. That day, I said goodbye to sugar and processed foods. I went through my pantry and threw just about everything out. This is the time when I started really reading every single label of every thing I consumed or bought. I started realizing just how terrible I was treating my body by my food choices. The ingredient lists I was reading consisted of chemical additives I couldn't even pronounce, high-fructose corn syrup, lots of dyes, and mass amounts of sugar. I remember standing in the grocery store aisle, feeling frustrated and betrayed, thinking 'this isn't even edible food!' I realized no one had ever taught me to do this throughout my 20 years of existence, and so if I wanted to be educated and healthy, I would have to do it myself.
Food is the most powerful intervention we have and
the first step we can take when resetting our bodies.
Dr. Mark Hyman
At this point, I knew I was completely changing my diet, and needed to cook but I had no idea what to eat. When people tell me 'I don't know where to start, or how to eat healthy' I totally empathize with them. I was eating mostly spinach, beans, and roasted chicken. Anything I could think of that didn't look too scary, and came from the produce aisle, I would steam, sauté, or microwave and eat in a bowl. I also couldn't think of anything to drink that didn't have sugar or chemical additives, so all I drank was water and some coffee. Even though at first my taste buds didn't really care for most of these new choices, I kept doing it. I later learned it can take a few months for your taste buds to adjust to the change, because you've been inundated with copious amounts of salt and sugar in your food for most of your life- and so that's what your taste buds are conditioned to want. The only thing that kept me going was how I felt physically.
After cutting out dairy, sugar, and processed foods for about a month, I literally felt like a brand new person. For the first time in my life, I felt incredibly clear-headed. I woke up with ridiculous amounts of energy. I would just get up; no laying there for an extra ten minutes dreading the day ahead- my body was ready to go. I was having bowel movements at least two times a day, my skin was clearing up, and the whites of my eyes looked so bright! The stomach bloating had started to recede, and I could wear tight clothes again and feel attractive in them. My blood circulation improved- I no longer had problems with limbs falling asleep all the time. I was able to concentrate, and I was getting so much done in a days time. I would do yoga in the morning, go to work, and then go hiking for hours and still feel great afterwards. I was never tired throughout the day anymore. I feel as if words will never be able to describe how much better I felt than I had previously.
It felt like a straight-up, full-blown miracle to me.
Of everything I cut out, sugar became the hardest obstacle for me. After my initial month, I started allowing myself to have some sugar again, and this became a problem. I know now why this was so difficult for me to overcome. Sugar triggers an opiate response or pleasure stimulus in the brain, and has incredibly addictive properties. Hence why it can be so hard to shake, and once you start again, you want more. I had a particularly bad month of sugar binging- especially on drinks at work that were loaded with 30,40,50 + grams of sugar. I knew it was bad, but I couldn't stop. At the end of this month, and a long day at work, I got a migraine- even though I wasn't close to my menstrual cycle. I was upset to say the least. I thought being healthier had fixed all my chronic issues? As I lay in bed, writhing in pain, I had an epiphany. I had been reading about the effects of sugar on the hormones- how it can cause huge imbalances and suddenly I realized that sugar, that little addictive demon, had caused the onset of this migraine! After that migraine, I stopped consuming almost all sugar. Now, I can see how that particular migraine experience, showed me exactly what I needed to know. That was almost three years ago, and I have never had a migraine since.
I have no doubt in my mind that God orchestrated all of these things to bring me healing, because I often prayed and cried out to him in frustration about the way I was experiencing life. Each step in the right direction seemed to happen very organically at the time, but it was really just a beautiful design that was purposed for my life all along. From all of this, my biggest passion was born, and it is now my calling. To help others find these truths- because the 'system' as we will call it- i.e. the government, media, marketing experts, and big companies looking to make money off of you- will never give you these truths. I often feel frustrated that in my public school not only was I fed complete crap for meals, I was also taught the complete opposite of the truth that I know now. Eat dairy! Consume mostly bread! Sugar is great! A small amount of vegetables is enough! I was never encouraged to listen to my body, or even feel through my body. But now, I am always aware and consciously listening to what my body is telling me. Things such as excessive gas, no bowel movements, and highly irregular periods were all major signs from my body trying to tell me I wasn't treating it as it needed, so that it could function correctly. Learning to listen to your body and it's needs, is vitally important work, that should be taught at a young age to carry with you throughout life.
Fast forward to today. I wake up early (most days!) and I have superb motivation for life and my work. A woman who once did not know how to cook anything, much less 'healthy' food- I now consider myself to be an excellent whole foods cook who is inspired by taste and color. I sincerely enjoy cooking, but enjoy the way my food makes me feel and function even more than the process of making it. I love physical activity- hiking, walking, playing soccer, snowboarding, surfing, and dancing. I lift at the gym 4 days of the week, and can't even believe I have a wonderfully toned body- I sincerely believed that was never in the cards for me! I appreciate and love my body and how hard it works for me. I realized that stomach pudge I could never rid, was due to my diet- not my exercise regimen. Cutting out the junk, cut off that stubborn fat. I don't follow a 'diet'- I eat foods from the earth that nourish me, and of course I occasionally have sugar and dairy! Restriction is not a part of my life- mindfulness is. I am calm, positive, and incredibly grateful- even during the worst of times.
I also later learned that what I did with cutting out foods, is called an elimination diet- removing foods from your diet that you suspect your body can't tolerate well. It is used to help those with a sensitive gut, food intolerance or food allergy. An elimination diet may alleviate symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and nausea. I had no idea I was following something proven to be helpful for so many people. I just listened to my body and this elimination diet happened organically for me, and brought me clarity.
For as long as I can remember, I have cared for people in an intense way. I have extreme empathy and compassion, and this spills over into every aspect of my life. It is my purpose in life, to help others who are suffering or feeling generally unwell, to find what is their birthright- vibrant, energetic, and healthful living; because not feeling good in your body is not normal. I want others to live a positive, fulfilling life and spread this ripple effect of health throughout the world with me and many others.
I would like to finish this story, by displaying all of the small and big characteristics of my health and physical well-being that changed during this process and journey thus far, so that you may feel inspired and intrigued to pursue a change in your life as well.
Migraines- Obviously one of my biggest ailments. I went from chronic, debilitating migraines that required prescribed medicine, to living a life without them; and the fear & anxiety that was brought into my life with them.
Chronic Fatigue- I could sleep at any time. I woke up tired, spent my days tired, and went to bed exhausted. After meals was especially bad, I always wanted to take a nap. I now have tons of energy- enough to get up early, work-out every day, and get all of my to-do lists done!
Constipation- Bowel movements were rare for me, and usually induced with a suppository. This caused a lot of uncomfortable bloating and feelings of stagnation in my body. I have at least two bowl movements each day now, and my digestion feels top-notch.
Flatulence- Holding in gas when you really need to get it out, is honestly one of the worst feelings. I was in this situation daily, and it was super annoying and embarrassing to deal with. The only time I get gas now, is when I eat something my body totally disagrees with.
Swelling- I used to wake up randomly with a puffy face- not very cute. Sometimes my fingers would swell also. I hated the way I looked on these days. After listening to my body, and taking note of what I would consume the night before - I discovered excessive amounts of sodium in canned foods, restaurant foods, etc. would do this to me. Now that I know, I avoid these food options as much as possible or buy low-sodium options.
Eye Discharge- You know the little crusties that are in the corners of your eyes in the mornings? It feels a little uncomfortable to open your eyes at first because they feel a little stuck? I used to wake up like this every day. The week after I cut out dairy, this stopped happening to me. A few months later when I had some ice cream before bed with friends, I woke up with crusties again. I don't know the science behind this, but it's my personal experience!
Sinus Issues- Growing up in St. Louis, we had a lot of crappy weather. Hot days that would turn to cold the next day dramatically, and lots of humidity and over-cast weather. I always believed that's why I would get sinus headaches, or feel stuffed up in the mornings. But, when I moved out of state to a completely different climate, it kept happening. I haven't had a sinus issue in a couple of years, other than when I actually have a cold.
Blood Flow- I could only sit cross-legged for a couple of minutes before my legs fell asleep. I almost always woke up to my hand being asleep, because I slept on it during the night. My feet and hands were cold a lot, and often felt tingly. When I started eating better, these issues started to dissolve, because a lot of plant foods have powers to manage blood flow. This completely disappeared when I started exercising regularly.
Mental Health- I definitely had periods of depression throughout my life, often to do with the way I physically felt- but also just general day-to-day depression. I would sleep, cry, or be crabby and lash out at others as a way of coping. During my time in the wellness community and school, I have been exposed to overwhelming research that shows the link between diet and mental health. If you sustain yourself with food full of chemicals, void of nutrients, and overall detrimental to your body- how do you expect to have high-functioning brain power? It wasn't until I detoxed all the crap out, that my mental health improved vastly. Even when confronted with extremely difficult circumstances (and I have had my fair share of these) I was able to bounce back quickly, and see the positive side to each situation. I never felt capable of this positivity before changing my diet.
Brain Fog- Again, something I had never heard of or imagined being connected to what I put in my mouth- brain fog! This is a type of cognitive dysfunction involving: memory problems, lack of mental clarity, poor concentration, and inability to focus. Dr. Axe says that on a cellular level, brain fog is believed to be caused by high levels inflammation and changes to three primary hormones that determine your mood, energy and focus: dopamine, serotonin and cortisol. These hormones and inflammation are directly correlated with diet.
Bad Breath- Nasty morning breath is completely normal, right? Wrong! When it comes to bad breath, the problem has something to do with the bacterial population of the mouth. The human mouth naturally plays host to a lot of different bacteria, just like the gut. Just like healthy gut flora, healthy mouth bacteria don’t cause problems, but if something goes wrong, various species of mouth bacteria can produce several different compounds that make your breath smell bad. Although I still brush my teeth every morning, it's amazing to feel confident that if I forget, I can still talk to people without covering my mouth!
Menstrual Cycle- From the first time I ever got my period, I had the worst cramps. The kind where you can do nothing but sit in a hot bath for an hour and curse the world. Again, I was told it ran in the family line. I was put on birth control pills at 15, because I was missing school for a week at a time due to cramps and my periods were super irregular. Not only did the BC pills mess with my hormones and make me more constipated than usual, they were also ruining my gut bacteria! When I changed my diet, my cramps became manageable again. I only have them for a day, and I use essential oils and heating pads to help them. Oh, and I have a period every month now. My body decided to work correctly, because I decided to nourish it correctly. How bout that?
PMS- I made a separate notation for my PMS because it was that bad. If you're reading this and you've ever told a woman PMS isn't real, you need to apologize profusely to her. Pre-menstrual syndrome is very real, and affects women differently. For me, it was terrible depression a few days before my period. Lack of motivation completely. Forgetfulness. Incredibly sensitive to others words and actions towards me. Clumsiness when I was normally not clumsy in the least. And of course, crabbiness. I would lash out easily at anyone and everyone. The worst part is hating yourself for becoming someone you do NOT want to be. But it truly feels as if you have no control whatsoever. Balancing my hormones through diet, and working out regularly banished these feelings. If I have a month where I indulge a little more in sweets and consume dairy, I feel these symptoms start to slightly creep back up on me. Even more motivation to stay on track. A period without PMS? Hollaaa!
I hope my personal story has inspired you to make a change, listen to your body, and learn to honor and respect your health & well-being; because it truly affects everything.