I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the dietary and lifestyle changes I’ve made in my life recently. 2017 has been a transformative year for myself and my family. As we look towards a new year in a few months, I wanted to encapsulate my wellness journey in a blog post here and answer some questions that people have been asking. And I may or may not use an excessive amount of Joey GIFS to illustrate my story :-). As some of you know, I’ve come from some pretty frightening lows with regard to my health and emotional wellness, but I’ve made immense progress this year, and as I write this today, I can honestly say that I am healthier and happier than I have ever been in my entire adult life.
Before I continue, I want to point out that my story is anecdotal. I am no doctor, just a 28-year-old mom who is happier, healthier, and 20 pounds lighter than her 27-year-old self. This post is not meant to be taken as medical advice. It is meant to inspire and empower you to take your health into your own hands and to become the curator of your own body. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your own personal wellness plan. Also, please note that there may be some affiliate links in here. I only promote companies that I love, and if you choose to make a purchase through one of the links you will be helping to support the blog, at no extra cost to you. Okay, on to my story.
We all learned from Friends that food addiction issues can affect our relationships, but sometimes it isn’t as obvious as simply being possessive of a few french fries on a date. Sometimes food addictions don’t look like food addictions at all. Sometimes the way that personal nutrition affects your relationships is subtle and confusing.
We are a culture very much attached to our food—emotionally and physically. Food is incorporated into all of our social activities. It is spiritual. It is used to celebrate and used to mourn. It has always been that way. The problem isn’t so much the fact that we are attached to our food emotionally and physically, and it’s not necessarily even our faults that we have developed these attachments; the problem is the way in which big corporations have modified and processed foods to the detriment of our guts and then the way they’ve manipulated our emotions, through sneaky marketing (see this TIME Magazine article on sugar) in order to attach us in a much more serious way to foods and drinks which are unhealthy, addictive, and utterly destructive to our gut microbiome. My big weaknesses, I confess, were pizza and ice cream.
In December of 2016, after a few Christmas cookie binges at holiday parties, I hit a bit of a wall. Looking back, many of the health issues I experienced had been with me for a while; they had just manifested themselves in different ways: a severe and unexpected onset of acne in college, hormonal/emotional issues on and off throughout life, leg aches and belly aches since childhood, etc. But this time, everything in my body came crashing down very suddenly. I experienced periods of extreme fatigue for several days at a time, accompanied by lymphatic swelling, low mood, and brain fog. As this worsened, I began to have heart palpitations, aches, and pains; I experienced an overwhelming feeling of stress and irritability. I had no energy to clean my house or cook. I didn’t even have the brain power to order takeout when I couldn’t cook because I couldn’t decide what to order. I was a drag to be around. I was not the mother or wife that I wanted to be.
I was an emotionally difficult person to deal with. I was extremely irritable with my children and my husband, and I would break at the slightest wrong move. My low energy and mood affected those around me and I felt completely out of control of my own life and out of touch with my family. And the guilt of this brought me even lower.
I did some reading, some Googling, some trial and error on myself, and I was pretty sure I had SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. This was confirmed through medical testing the next month.
If you’ve never heard of SIBO, Dr. Axe puts it this way:
When you have SIBO, as food passes through the small intestine, the bacterial overgrowth interferes with the healthy digestive and absorption process. The bacterium associated with SIBO actually consumes some of the foods and nutrients, leading to unpleasant symptoms, including gas, bloating and pain.
So basically, I was eating all the time, but I was actually “undernourished” as the buggers were eating many of my nutrients before they could get into my system.
Dr. Axe continues:
Even when treating small intestinal bacterial overgrowth with antibiotics, relapse rate is high. This is a chronic condition that can be cured, but it takes patience, perseverance and a change in diet. In fact, SIBO treatment include a healing diet, and some foods should be avoided until the gut flora is back in balance.
I knew I was at a crossroads in my life. I knew I had to make a choice. I could take antibiotics to “get rid of the bad bacteria.” I could continue to live as though the food I put into my body has little bearing on the way my body feels. But I knew that nothing would change longterm for me if I didn’t take a look at the root of the problem.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
I now believe the root of most health problems lies in poor nutrition. In January, I started to look at some gut-healing diets like GAPS and Paleo. Instead of relaying to you my exact trial and error process, I am going to give you several resources later in this post, so that you can do the homework yourself. Everyone’s body and what each person can handle at a given time is different. Some will be able to go all in with the GAPS Intro Diet and they may experience fast and complete healing. Some people will not be able to handle the detox period and the work that comes with that and will need to take things a little more gradually, eliminating or limiting processed sugar and gluten, then moving on to some bigger changes once they’ve got that down. I urge you to do the research yourself and figure out what will work for you.
Your physical and emotional issues may be different, diagnostically, than mine were, but I am convinced that a whole-food based, gut-healing, nutrient-dense diet, adjusted to consider an individual’s specific needs and sensitivities, would benefit ANYONE’s health.
Doing the research for yourself is what will empower you to make changes. For me, by the time I understood the science of what was going on in my body, it actually became pretty easy to get over my fears of giving up my favorite foods. All I had to do was imagine billions of pathogenic bacteria heckling me for sugary treats so they could multiply and wreak further havoc on my gut.
I knew that my body and my family deserved better. I needed to stop feeding the bad bacteria and to start nourishing myself.
My diet has been a bit of a mishmash of a few separate, but similar approaches. It’s sort of an “adjusted” Paleo, with lots of GAPS-inspired recipes, like bone broth soup, and lots of superfoods (like greens and berries) inspired by the science in Terry Wahls’s Ted Talk and her book, The Wahls Protocol. In addition to adjusting my diet, I’ve found a good natural practitioner who has used his expertise to make recommendations based on my own body’s individual tendencies, and I’ve started using Young Living products to supplement my journey to wellness.*
I was very strict with myself at first, and while the detox was a bear, I eventually began to feel a lot better. Eating healthy whole foods requires a LOT of cooking from scratch, cooking whole chickens, making messy bone broth, etc. My house remained a COMPLETE disaster for several months, and this was a source of stress for me for a while. However, my husband was extremely supportive and he spent his days working hard at a 9 – 5, and his evenings doing dishes and juggling the kids, while I focused on cooking, resting (when possible), and healing my body.
It’s been a long year of detox, healing, and dealing with some autoimmunity which, at one point, I thought was Lupus. I’ve done a lot of troubleshooting. But friends, I have never felt so good in my entire adult life. By September 2017, I had a pretty good handle on what foods were triggers for me and what foods made me feel on top of the world. I decided to take the month of September to focus heavily on immersing myself in the “good” foods and completely eliminating the trigger foods. After that, I began to test a few things out and found that I could slowly introduce some foods back into my diet. It was a bit of a breakthrough for me.
I know that I still have some healing to go, and I can’t say for sure that the SIBO is completely gone. I am waiting to get retested because my body still tells me that it’s got a little ways to go. That said, my energy levels have never been higher in my adult life; my mood is improved. I am able to be a better wife and mom. I feel as though my hormones have balanced out. I no longer crave processed sugar or bread. My former desire for a nightly glass of wine has vanished, and I now enjoy a glass of wine occasionally.
I’ve been able to move beyond “survival mode” and am in the process of completing a proofreading course which will set me up to start my own freelance business in proofreading court transcript documents. Whenever I think of the cost associated with buying healthier food, I consider the value of my own personal health and the things that I can do to earn money for myself when I have the energy and brain power to do it.
I am also MUCH more aware of what I am putting in my body and how it makes me feel. My body now tells me right away if I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t have. Instead of an overall constant feeling of sluggishness, which is sometimes accompanied by a more intense fatigue when I eat poorly, I have an overall feeling of wellness, and my body really crashes after a sugary or gluten-y meal.
Not only have I seen changes in myself, but my husband has seen some major changes as well. While he has not been eating my exact diet, we eat a lot of the same things, and his intake of gluten, sugar, and processed food has gone down drastically. See for yourself. I did ZERO editing on these shots, other than cropping:
As I wrap up today, I want to encourage and challenge you to do a few things.
Give yourself a little credit.
Stop saying “I could never…” You are better than that. You have a life to live. You have a body to reclaim and defend. You likely have some pathogenic buggers to mass-murder. You have yourself to take care of. Begin now and challenge your mindset. It will be hard. Normal people will not understand. You will be considered unconventional. But that’s okay. You’ll get used to it, and you may even start to like it.
Take a few minutes to consider your own personal worth.
If, in order to change things, you really need to think about how your children need you healthy or how your mood affects your relationships, then use that to motivate yourself for now. But in the end, when your children grow up or, God forbid, if something happens to your spouse, if you do not value and respect yourself simply because you are you and you want to live your life in emotional and physical wellness, then you will not be able to sustain a healthy lifestyle. I cannot change you, and no one can guilt you into changing permanently. You must want it for yourself.
Educate yourself and get support.
If you can afford it, find a natural doctor that you can trust. If you don’t have the extra funds, then join a Facebook group of like-minded individuals:
- My sisters are the crazies that gave up wheat and processed sugar long before I ever considered it. They were my first inspiration to treat my body naturally. Both are very active Young Living ambassadors on Facebook. Join one or both of their groups, tell them I sent you by tagging @eatstorieslikegrapes, and be entered to win a valuable, hand-picked gift from Young Living (based on a 1-on-1 discussion with you about your specific physical or emotional needs). The winner will be picked at the beginning of the new year (2018), just in time for Julia’s Whole30 challenge in February. In January, Julia will begin a heavy focus on nutrition and start prepping everyone for the February challenge. I’m excited to participate as I am able and to learn more about my body along the way. I hope you’ll join us!
- Oils of Abundance with Julia (overall health and wellness)
- #WildAndFree with Nora (if you have pets, this one is for you!)
- For more support, head on over to this blog’s FB community, where we can bounce ideas off of each other and dig a little deeper into these topics.
Also, check out a few of my favorite blogs, articles, books, and documentaries on the topic of natural wellness. Grab a cup of tea or coffee and set aside some time to explore these resources and learn about your body and the way that you can help nourish it with better nutrition:
- Paleo Leap’s Paleo 101 This is my favorite website for understanding the Paleo diet. It breaks everything down into super simple terms, and it’s really easy to search the site for specific information. There is a LOT of information on gut health on this blog
- GAPS Diet This is where I started my journey to wellness. It’s difficult at first, but a fantastic choice for severe cases. Get the official GAPS book here and a really great cookbook I use all the time here.
- Terry Wahls is a great resource, especially for issues relating to autoimmunity. I mentioned her book and Ted Talk above.
- Dr. Axe on Sugar This guy is great for researching specific diseases, symptoms, and conditions. If you have any health complaints, explore his website a bit and check out some of his other articles.
- Wellness Mama on How to Implement Nutritional Changes Explore her blog a little bit! This woman is very relatable, knowledgeable, and offers great practical advice.
- PALEOHACKS on 9 Savvy Ways to Save Money on the Paleo Diet, a great article if financial issues are keeping you from changing diet. Also a great blog, overall, for helping to make Paleo easier and more accessible.
- Food Matters, a documentary about how what we eat and where our food is sourced affects our bodies and how we feel.
- Food As Medicine, a documentary about treating and preventing chronic disease with nutrition.
- Fed Up, a documentary about the sugar industry’s detrimental effect on the modern American diet and our health
Mark your new journey to wellness with a delicious, nutrient-dense treat! You’ll learn from the start that you can eat real food and feel like royalty at the same time. Head over to Jay’s Baking Me Crazy for my favorite Paleo fudge recipe! I use raw honey instead of maple syrup and I use less of it because I like a darker fudge. I also add in walnut pieces and coconut flakes! I like to stick little squares of it in the freezer for those little “I need chocolate” emergencies 🙂
Try it for a month.
It really can’t hurt you. You owe it to yourself to at least try it out. Plan ahead, get a support group, and then just do it. Push through the whole month because you will very likely feel worse before you feel better. None of these changes have to be permanent. Some may become permanent because you feel so much better having made the change, but some things may be easily reintroduced once your gut has healed.
And you might find that you even like real food better 🙂
You know that well-worn, cliched quote…
If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.
– Richard Bach
Well, people, have you ever tried Against the Grain frozen pizza??? Holy pepperoni, people, it is AMAZING!!! It’s better than pizza. Seriously. And no, I am not promoting a diet of Paleo fudge and grain-free pizza alone… the old adage still stands that you will not “grow big and strong” without veggies. But it helps to know that you can still have some of those old favorites for those times when you feel like you just need a little treat.
And lastly, what you’ve all been waiting for…
Thrivemarket.com is offering readers of the blog 20% off their first 3 orders! This is UNREAL, people. I’ve never seen an offer like this from their website. This is your chance to get started off on the right foot without breaking the bank. Thrive has LOTS of delicious gluten-free, Paleo goodies. It is a subscription service, but by signing up through the blog, you will not only have access to 20% off your first 3 orders, but you will also have access to Thrive’s wholesale pricing and free shipping on all orders over $49. I’ve been using Thrive since I started the diet and I love it! It makes Paleo a breeze 🙂 Not to mention, it makes Christmas shopping SUPER easy: get healthy, minimalist, affordable goodies, and make gift baskets for your loved ones!
And if we learned anything today, it’s that Joey from Friends may have had what one might call a bit of a “food problem,” but it wasn’t necessarily his fault; he is simply a product of his culture, struggling to navigate his complicated relationship with food and reconcile it with his own personal wellness goals and values.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post. Maybe you could relate. Maybe you thought of someone that is struggling with health or food issues. Please share the article on your FB and Twitter… tag your friends… spread the word. This stuff is life-changing, and I want everyone to know how it has transformed me.
* Young Living essential oils have helped me in the areas of emotional wellness, sleep quality, and (taken internally) bacterial balance. I’ve also taken their digestive enzymes, which promote good digestion when I “cheat” on the diet, and I love their superfood supplement from Young Living, called Ningxia Red, and the way it has helped to promote detoxification and heightened energy levels. If you’re interested in Young Living, check out my sisters’ FB groups mentioned above, or read up about it on the YL website. If you sign up on your own through the website, please use my member number (10923041) as “enroller,” shoot me an email to let me know you signed up, and I’ll send you a gift to welcome you on board!