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.
your sounds so much like mine, I have had digestive problems and eating disorders since I was a teenager(I am now in my seventies) . along the way I have developed many food allergies and intolerances, and life has gotten very challenging it is so good to hear from others who live with similar issues. I dont feel so alone.
Thanks for sharing that, Eva! How are you doing now?
I recently, June 26th to be exact, had a hemorrhagic stroke that has left me numb on my left side from head to toe and across the mouth region also has effected my hearing on the left side, double vision and fine motor functions with my left arm and hand. I have been told that I am very lucky to be alive little alone be able to move my left body parts at all.
I am doing physical therapy and excising daily on my own.
Like you, I believe that what I eat could have an adverse effect on my health and help with my recovery, which has led me to find, subscribe and read your blog and emails.
I just want to say Thank You for sharing your life situations and research that can help others.
Hi Randy, thank you for your kind note! I hope you are doing better. I’m happy to hear you are doing physical therapy and are exercising. Best wishes to you for your continued recovery.
I am a clean eating chef and I can’t say that being so means my kids eat healthy! They do of course eat lots of healthy stuff, but I generally get cries of ‘Oh not mum’s healthy food again’, or ‘It’s Organic! Yuch!’ etc.. so they have a mixed diet that is healthy and unhealthy at the same time. I think they will adapt though as they get older and at least they have heard me explain a 1000 times why this food is a healthy food- i don’t accept that there are good and bad foods by the way- I think everything in moderation..
Thanks for the note, Melanie! It sounds like your kids are lucky to have such a healthy mom, even if they don’t realize it yet. Keep up the good work!!! XO.
Hi Carrie, this may be a dumb question, but what exactly is a functional medical doctor?
Hi Marie, it’s not a dumb question at all!!! A functional medicine doctor is one who looks for the root cause of health issues. It’s almost like it’s own specialty, but often also incorporate lifestyle management techniques. A “real” doctor can become a functional medicine practitioner, but there are also nutritionists and other health professionals that use this technique.
It’s amazing how transformational real food is and I’m so glad you found what works for you!
Thanks, Kelly! That means so much to me. XO.
Thanks for sharing your story, a heartfelt one. It’s incredible what you’ve been through and I’m glad that you are on the other side! Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks for reading my story, Darryl! And, I’m sorry we couldn’t get together in London. I’m sure we’ll be at the same event at some point. 🙂
Wow such an inspiring story, and good to remember that it takes time to go from a processed diet to a clean eating lifestyle – it’s definitely a journey! I know it’s taken me a while, but slowly over time I don’t crave those foods anymore, and only want the fresh vibrant produce!
Thanks, Kari!!! XO.
Loved reading your story and journey. I’m a super taster too! I still have problem with certain veggies. I’m so envious of my friends who can eat mass quantities of veggies and enjoy them, while I gag them down like a three year old!
Ha ha, that sounds just like me, Stacey! It’s a big reason why smoothies work so well for me. Thanks for the note and for reading my story. XO.
Thank you for sharing, Carrie! So much of that story I did not know. What a journey, but how great that you finally found a healthy balance that is working for you. I have some similarities in my story- grew up eating junk, thyroid issues, struggled with an ED, and now found balance 🙂
Thanks for reading my story, Jessica, and for your note. XO.
Thanks so much for sharing your story! So amazing that you found healing through food and real food nutrition. I hope your story inspires others who are sick and hopeless!
Thanks, Jean! Me too! Xo.