BEFORE CLEAN EATING, EVERYTHING MADE ME SICK
For years, I tried to hide the fact that I had digestive issues.
I had a habit of going to the nurse after lunch in elementary school and because there was nothing noticeably wrong with me, my parents and teachers figured I just wanted to skip gym class.
By high school, I had stopped eating during the day because “everything” made me feel sick. I’d quickly drink a juice box and eat a granola bar after school to get through field hockey practice and then I’d eat dinner at home at night, unable to sleep because of stomach pains.
By senior year, I had frequent, heavy periods, acne, asthma, an ulcer, and irritable bowel syndrome. With a daily regimen of Ortho Tri-cyclin, Clindamycin, Ventolin, Zantac and Metamucil, I should have been fine, right?
My asthma was so bad when I was a freshman in college that I had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night. That year, I added Advair to my growing list of prescriptions.
My sophomore year in college brought another hospital visit. I had become a Resident Assistant and I was so anxious heading into that year that I actually couldn’t keep food in my body – even water would lead to knife-like pains in my stomach and severe diarrhea.
While helping new students move into the freshman dorm, I passed out from dehydration. The bags of saline from the hospital helped me to bounce back, but by then I had solidified an unhealthy habit of eating very little during the day, sleeping through my low energy all afternoon, and staying up to eat entire pizzas and pints of Ben and Jerry’s while doing homework late into the night.
Mine was far from the ideal college experience, though I managed to hide how I was feeling from those around me by wearing cute outfits and full makeup while others showed up for class in their pajamas. I even pulled off graduating a semester early with high honors.
SOUTH BEACH TO THE RESCUE
Fast forward to 2004 when I went on the South Beach diet as a means of getting ready for my wedding day. I had never really been overweight – aside from understandably gaining a bit in college – but for the first time, I loved my body.
My skin was clear, my weight was “ideal” and despite the stress of planning a wedding while in a long-distance relationship, I felt remarkably well.
The key to the success of the diet and the way that I followed it was low carbohydrates and lots of fresh foods. I ate mostly fish, chicken, and vegetables, and skipped over high-sugar fruits and starches.
With the honeymoon cruise, however, I went back to eating whatever I wanted. My asthma was back and I was supplementing with Metamucil again, but I hadn’t made the connection between food and health just yet.
In 2007, I was put on bed rest with my first child because of pregnancy-induced hypertension, and my son was born via emergency caesarian section at term.
He was a healthy baby, but he soon developed reflux, eczema, and asthma. We were told to add rice to his bottle and hoped that he would outgrow it. He didn’t.
My daughter was born with similar issues; her treatment was Zantac and gas drops.
By the time they were toddlers, their cheeks were consistently red and cracked and my son had developed a chronic cough that we were told was just habit. It wasn’t.
It was then that I started to pay attention to how what we were eating reflected in how we felt.
We made the switch to organic foods, joined a CSA and got to know our local farmers. We replaced our cleaning and self-care products with natural versions that didn’t include chemical fragrances and preservatives.
We limited our consumption of processed and packaged foods, including those with dairy, excessive sugar, artificial food coloring, and trans fats, and I realized that we could be healthy without following a specific diet plan laid out in a book. By eating real, whole foods and observing my family’s reactions, we could eat more of what made us feel great, and less of what didn’t.
The kids’ asthma and eczema disappeared and I soon realized that I didn’t need my prescriptions either.
By making small changes over time, we were able to improve the health of our family. It wasn’t easy to take away the dairy products that had been such a staple for my kids, but they grew to like the taste of nut-based milks and cheeses instead. Now that their diets aren’t so dependent on dairy, they are able to tolerate having pizza with friends without the eczema flare and asthmatic cough.
The health improvements I saw in my own home inspired me to enroll in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to learn how to educate others about food and health. My favorite part of being a holistic health coach has been guiding clients through identifying their own weak spots and then helping them to achieve lasting benefits by adjusting the way that they eat.