Clean Eating Before & After Journey
This post details my Clean Eating Before and After Journey. It’s been a long road to recover my health and feel better, but a real food, clean eating diet has been the answer for me.
Overwhelming Health Issues Before
Before I started on a clean eating diet, I ate the Standard American Diet of refined carbs, added sugars, and low quality protein. I hardly ate any fresh fruits or vegetables.
As a result, I developed many unpleasant symptoms, both physical and emotional, and was diagnosed with:
- Chronic migraines
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid condition
- Thyroid cancer
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Eating disorders
- Multiple food sensitivities
- Irritable bowel disease
- Hypothalamic amenorrhea, loss of menstrual cycle
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
It seems pretty overwhelming looking at that list, but I know so many other people are suffering, too. The symptoms from diseases or conditions can really start to add up, and I’ve experienced everything from insomnia to hives to fatigue that just wouldn’t go away.
If you are feeling down because of an endless list of issues, I can honestly say that I know what that feels like.
Childhood of Chaos & Processed Foods
Growing up in the 1980s, my ideal meal was 100% processed food. Food companies marketed heavily to children, and I begged my mom for sugary cereals, candy, and anything packaged or sugar-filled.
I also learned many years later when I was studying nutrition that I’m a “super-taster,” so certain vegetables like broccoli taste very bitter to me. I avoided anything green just for that reason. However, my health suffered from my poor eating habits and I remember getting sick quite often.
Start of Binge-Eating
When I was about 10 years old, my dad experienced financial bankruptcy and my home environment became incredibly unstable and filled with stress. We ended up having to sell our home and most of our belongings.
It was around this time that I turned to food for comfort. I curled up on my bed with a blanket, a book, and a bag of candy hidden under the pillows. I retreated into that veil of safety even just for an hour.
My sister and I lived temporarily with an aunt and uncle before moving from Oklahoma to California to reunite with our parents. As we started a new life from scratch, my addiction to using sugar for comfort took hold. The candy binges turned into a daily ritual and were the only thing that made me happy when I came home from school.
I was deeply ashamed of my habit and the cycle of guilt, shame, and lack of self-control around food began. At the same time, my weight increased, my skin broke out, and my self-esteem plummeted.
The self-loathing was so intense that I had absolutely no self confidence. My unhealthy binge-eating behavior and self-loathing went on for a decade. I felt so alone and I had no motivation, education, or role models to make healthy changes.
Adolescence & Young Adulthood
By the time I reached college, my hormones were so unbalanced that I had never had a normal menstrual cycle. The only option I was given by the doctor I saw was to start hormonal birth control.
Going on the pill regulated my cycle, but then led to anxiety and migraines. I was still so disconnected to my body that I didn’t realize the significance and continued to take the pill for 15 more years.
After getting my bachelor’s degree, I started my professional career as a fundraising executive for non-profit hospitals. The long hours took a further toll on my health.
Although my candy binges were less frequent, new addictions and other unhealthy coping strategies developed, such as over-exercising. At this point, the low-fat craze was also in full swing, so I thought it was healthy to run on the treadmill for an hour, and then go home and eat fat-free cookies and ice cream.
The bright spot during my 20s was meeting a sincere, funny, sweet man who became my boyfriend and, later, my husband. While falling in love helped me immensely from a mental standpoint (and probably saved my life), we were both busy professionals and didn’t eat very well.
We ate at restaurants a lot and both gained weight during the first few years of our relationship. I also further increased my stress level by enrolling in an incredibly demanding full-time graduate school program.
Stress, Anxiety, & Panic Attacks
Around that time, I developed extreme fatigue that led to being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid condition, along with multiple thyroid nodules.
My endocrinologist said there were no dietary or lifestyle changes I could make that would help, only revealing that eventually my thyroid would be completely devastated by the disease. (I now understand from working with a functional medicine physician that there actually are a lot of dietary and holistic ways to reduce thyroid antibodies. I sure wish I had known that back then).
My migraines were also occurring almost daily by this time, as well as debilitating panic attacks that left me unable to maintain many of my relationships. When I asked my internal medicine doctor for help, his only suggestion was to consider taking an experimental daily drug that was being used for seizures.
I was horrified by the idea of having to take such a strong medication and refused the prescription. The red flag that I felt at that time was my very first inkling that I needed to take some control over my health.
Throughout it all, I hid my fears from everyone around me, including my husband. I devoted a lot of energy to keeping up a fake appearance, always smiling and pretending that I was doing okay. Looking back on it, I can see that I was slowly dying, and suffering in complete silence.
My “A-Ha” Moment
Finally, in 2004, I saw the movie Super Size Me about the guy who eats fast food for 30 days. I wasn’t that surprised that he got sick after eating this way, but I was inspired by the fresh fruits and vegetables that his natural chef-girlfriend prepared for him after the experiment was done. The food that helped him recover looked so vibrant and nourishing, and nothing like I had ever thought about buying.
I went straight from the movie theater to the grocery store and filled my cart with as many fresh foods as I could find. This was the first step I took in the long journey to recover my health.
Testing a Vegan Diet
There were further challenges ahead. Around 2010, I discovered veganism and thought that a 100% plant-based diet was the answer to all my problems. This strict approach that excluded all animal products seemed to work well at first. I lost weight and was feeling energetic with no migraines. I built a business creating recipes for the healthy, vegan community.
I also went gluten-free around the same time I went vegan, as I started experiencing chronic hives. No matter what I ate, I got itchy red hives on my skin, including my eyelids. It was really scary! Looking back on it, I think my vegan diet with all the beans led to leaky gut.
While some of my symptoms improved, my thyroid disease also took a serious turn in 2012. During a routine annual ultrasound to monitor my thyroid, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
I had surgery to remove the tumor, but had a very hard time adjusting to life without a thyroid gland. I started experiencing symptoms including chronic skin hives, fatigue, depression, and increased food sensitivities. I also became overly vigilant about my food choices and developed a type of eating disorder known as orthorexia. At this point, I realized the vegan diet was no longer serving my needs.
After: Discovering a Clean Eating Diet
Finally, in 2015, I began working with functional medicine physicians and practitioners who helped me develop a plan to address the root causes of my health problems and figure out the foods that would nourish and sustain me. I also consulted an eating disorders specialist to address some of the unhealthy beliefs I had around food.
At this point, I feel like a “clean eating” approach is the best description of a flexible, real food way I choose to eat. I ultimately had to stay gluten-free and dairy-free, and give up most grains, but I rarely feel deprived.
As a result, my overall inflammation has decreased tremendously and my health issues are much more manageable. Best of all, I enjoy colorful, nutrient-rich foods that are satisfying, healthy, and delicious.
See my complete gluten and dairy free diet grocery list.
And, if you’re looking to switch to a functional medicine practitioner, then check out my article on how to find functional medicine doctors near me.
My clean eating before and after has truly been a transformation both inside and out! I learned my lesson that my ideal diet is much less about perfection or following a strict plan, but doing my best each day to eat foods that nourish and satisfy me. I continue to share my health challenges and updates here on my blog, so please join my email list so we can keep in touch.
If you want to learn more about a clean eating diet, be sure to check out my articles on How to Get Started Eating Clean, Reasons to Go Gluten-Free, Reasons to Go Dairy-Free, & Tips to Get Started on a Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Diet.
As always, I want to hear from you! Feel free to share your story in the comments. Thank you for helping me so much along the way, I can only hope that I am giving back at least a little bit of the support, knowledge, and encouragement I’ve received.
Wow, you shared so much personal, raw information about your journey, thank you. I am glad you found what works best for you and that you are on the right path, still finding your way.
I am a vegan, been one for a long time and this works for me but I don’t ‘preach’ it to anyone. I live with 2 carnivores so I still buy, cook, handle meat for them and no judgement for anyone.
I love reading your emails and recipes. I am making the pear apple crisp tonight, can’t wait!
P.S. You’re beautiful in the before and after photo.
Hi Renee, oh thank you for such a kind email. I really appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. And, enjoy that pear apple crisp. It’s one of my favorites!
Hi Carrie, thank you so much for sharing your story!!! I think we are very similar – I too have Hashimoto’s, went vegan for about a year, and have struggled with food sensitivities, hormonal issues, binge eating, anxiety, and depression! Even though I mostly cook keto and paleo recipes, the only thing we’re super strict with is being gluten-free. I’m trying my best to be as balanced as possible with my kids and just teach them healthy habits instead of a strict diet.
I love your blog and am so excited to start trying your recipes!!!
Hi Cassidy! I’m so glad we met and I can’t wait to see your recipes too! It definitely sounds like we have a lot in common. My household is also strict gluten-free, although I can’t do keto because I do love my carbs, lol. XO!
I love the recipes you post and look forward to your emails
My daughter has been sick and I have been changing the way I cook and doing a lot of research.
Specialist says most certain it’s lupus and that scares me knowing she will live like this the rest her her life. Btw she just turned 20.
You inspire me and thank you.
Hi Lisa, thanks for reaching out. You should check out The Autoimmune Solution book by Dr. Amy Myers. It is excellent! https://amzn.to/39fQKB5
I was diagnosed with polymyalgia arthritica, 18 months ago, and told by my GP there was no alternative other than steroid treatment. I fought against this for a couple months but became almost disabled, and in great pain. Steroids did give me my life back, but as the dose gets lowered the pain and lack of movement increases. When I realised last week that I couldn’t even play a game of frisbee with my grandsons I decided to try and take control of my body. I’m watching a Jonathan Otto series on autoimmune disease (fascinating!) and have cut out dairy, sugar and wheat. But I need so much help on what I can eat! Yesterday I ate cous cous and chick peas, but feel worse today. Did that cause a sugar spike? I would appreciate knowing the diet you used to cope with your autoimmune disorder..
Thank you for sharing your clean eating recipes! We need them!
My husband was diagnosed with that condition a few years ago. Lynn. And, yes, the only way he managed it was to take steroids for 2 years. Now it’s gone. As far as eating couscous and chickpeas, couscous has gluten which is an autoimmune triggers. Chickpeas can also be inflammatory since they are a legume. You might want to consult with a functional medicine practitioner who can give you specialized food sensitivity tests and also advise you on diet. All of my recipes are gluten-free and dairy-free to help control autoimmune disease (and other conditions). You might also like the book The Autoimmune Solution by Dr. Amy Myers: https://amzn.to/2NU93BS
Glad you are well.
I was recently diagnosed with colon cancer so this was removed but need to follow healthy diet eg juicing and blending/smoothies etc. Cut out sugar and milk but still have yoghurt. I am not interested in chemo and will be going the healthy route. Until recently I was alright with the juicing etc but craving a slice of toast which is something I am not allowed. Will gluten free self raising flour impact or can I use this to make something similar to bread or rolls? I have found that if I eat something solid like chicken it seems to impact and make me slightly constipated as welll – I have to cook then blend it.
Wondering when I will be able to eat normally and do the ketogenic way of eating.
Hi Lee, thanks for reaching out! I am not qualified to offer nutritional advice, so I would strongly encourage you to see if your cancer treatment center has a dietitian on staff who is trained in oncology nutrition. Or, you could try to find a functional medicine practitioner who has training in cancer nutrition.