“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”.
This quote comes from Hippocrates and has been in my head for years. Those close to me know that I say it often and consider it every time I make plans for a meal or snack.
My sweet, beautiful mom was diagnosed with multiple autoimmune diseases throughout my childhood; but in 1992, we had a big scare when she had complications associated with Lupus (SLE). I dedicated a lot of my free time that year to researching Lupus. Was it contagious? You might laugh at that question, but back then no one had heard about Lupus. It was pretty much a mystery to most of us and it wasn’t easy for me to find a lot of information about it.
My big question became, “Is it hereditary?”. This was a great possibility for me, as many women in my mom’s family had some sort of hereditary autoimmune disease. I was so motivated to do whatever I could to fight it. I just had no idea how.
Then one day, I read a study on Lupus. It said something about “eliminating red meat from the diet” to reduce inflammation and Lupus symptoms.
So, I did more research. And more. And more.
At age 16, I made the unpopular decision to become a vegetarian. I decided that giving up ALL meat was the best step for me. I had no intention of converting anyone else in my family. I just knew in my heart, that this was for me.
How did it go? Eh.
Did I do it in a healthy way? NO WAY. Ha! I was eating so much pasta, dairy, butter, fried foods, TCBY for lunch (Yikes!), and loading up on highly processed foods.
But did it open my eyes? Absolutely.
At 25 (in 2001), I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. There it is: my autoimmune disease. I was given painkillers and zero nutritional information from the doctor on how to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. So, I relied on these meds, got addicted and fell into a deep depression and got some good ol’ anxiety to go with it. Multiple visits to the ER with panic attacks, new prescriptions for sleeping and some extra weight on my body to go with it. Good times! To top it off, I was eating so much soy, dairy and processed foods. Fruits and veggies would just go bad at our house. No motivation, no inspiration.
After my son was born in 2007, I started educating myself about nutrition. Here was this beautiful baby that I worked so hard to create (I’ll blog about my fertility issues another day – wink, wink) and I wanted to be the healthiest version of me for him; and for my incredible husband, of course. I took this research to a whole new level.
Books. Documentaries. Articles. Interviewing doctors, chiropractors, and nutritionists. Following health-conscious Instagrammers. And then one little documentary blew my mind in 2011. “Forks Over Knives”
I had never really thought about the idea of eliminating dairy from my already-restricted lifestyle. ‘Ugh! What will I eat if I can’t have meat AND dairy? How will I get my calcium and protein?’ This is a valid concern for a lot of people.
First, know that this story is MY story. It is not to sway or judge anyone about food choices. We’re talking about MEDICINE; “Let food be thy medicine”.
And for me, I wanted a change. I wanted to break free from the pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the darkness of depression, the chaos of anxiety and the fear of being sick the rest of my life.
So I jumped right in, with the support of my doctor and my family.
Three years later, I have done it. No meat or dairy, ever. I have adopted a plant-based lifestyle and I can tell you that my depression, anxiety and fears are gone. I still have some pain and inflammation from the arthritis, but it is absolutely minimal…..and without prescription medication. My food choices have been a huge part in healing me in so many ways.
My doctor and I stay on top of checking my blood work to make sure everything is within normal range. If I’m off a little, I just make the appropriate adjustments with my food; because, after all, it is my medicine.
I don’t believe that there is one perfect diet or lifestyle.
Let go of labels.
Sure, I’m a vegan, but it doesn’t define me or make me feel as though non-vegans have it all wrong. It’s just a term that I use when I’m explaining my dietary restrictions to new friends or when ordering at a restaurant.
Do your research.
Try eliminating meat, dairy and processed foods for a week. Maybe two? Or more?
Journal about it and be honest about your progress and feelings.
Take daily photos of yourself, and see the difference; not just around the waist or the size of your thighs, but look at your skin, your bigger smile and your new glow.
Work with your PCP. Or seek out a naturopathic doctor. I believe that most MD’s never take a nutrition class in medical school. I wish they would; they would have so many tools to empower their patients to use food as medicine.
My biggest success, regarding my health, is failure. I ‘failed’ at so many diets, but I learned so much.
Be excited to try, fail, learn and grow. It sounds funny, but after all of these years this is why I’m the healthiest version of myself today.
Here are some helpful tips that have worked for me:
*Prep, prep, prep! Plan your meals and snack ahead of time. You’ll hear this from health-bloggers, trainers and writers all of the time.
*Stock your fridge with organic, local (or as close to home as possible) produce. AND EAT IT. Don’t let it go bad.
*Toss out all processed foods throughout the house. Indulge in (vegan) cake or ice cream when you’re out with friends….not at home.
*Don’t be afraid of fat! Stock up on coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds!
*Buy a blender. I have a Vitamix, but there are so many great options out there. You can’t go wrong.
*Invest in a good juicer. Remember how I’ve failed at a lot of things? Juicers….that’s one of them. I’ve been through multiple juicers and I have finally found my favorite! A low speed juicer is where it’s at. I have the Omega (http://www.amazon.com/Omega-J8006-Nutrition-Center- Juicer/dp/B001L7OIVI#) Do your research, of course! I have my reasons for loving this juicer.
*Get a spiralizer. Here’s my favorite: http://www.amazon.com/Paderno-World-Cuisine-A4982799-Tri-Blade/dp/B0007Y9WHQ ; I use this to make one of my favorite meals: Zucchetti! (spiralized zucchini, in place of pasta). Here is a great recipe: http://www.robinskey.com/basil- spinach-pesto/
*If you live with anyone (partners, kids, roommates, etc): get them involved! Kids love being helpful! My son loves to pick out fruits and veggies for our fresh juices and smoothies. And the spiralizer? I’ll bet your spouses will get addicted. It’s pretty fun.
*Detox often. I do it a few times each year. Currently, this is my go-to guide: http://www.amazon.com/Clean-Expanded-Edition- Revolutionary/dp/0062201662 In this book, I have learned the greatest piece of fasting advice EVER: don’t eat anything for 12 hours, between dinner and breakfast. Let your digestive system heal during that time. So, if you eat dinner at 7 pm then don’t eat breakfast until 7 am. It’s that simple! I have committed to do this every day, indefinitely.
Fill your Instagram with healthy inspiration. Some of my favorites are: @FullyRawKristina, @VeganFoodShare, @rickiheller
Good luck to everyone!