I often get asked how I reached a point of plant-based eating and the person I am talking to is generally shocked to hear it did not begin as an ethical OR weight loss decision. It also came after I had lost 50+ pounds and had been maintaining that along with what I, and many others, considered a healthy weight and life. I am fortunate in that my weight does not yo-yo outside of my 5 or so pounds, I don’t struggle to eat well and exercise comes easy to me both mentally and physically (usually). Yet despite all these factors in alignment, I was not okay. Prior to my weight loss I had an unhealthy relationship with food, clinically would be diagnosed as having an eating disorder (despite being overweight), and the physical discomfort I felt was something that had simply become normal to me. I had went to the doctor numerous times over the years for my stomach issues, all of which were dismissed with a “you’re young, lose some weight”.
So. I did.
Unsurprising in hindsight, neither my relationship with food nor my physical issues changed. I still felt bloated constantly, was pretty moody, extremely emotional, was constipated non-stop, my skin was questionable, I had nasty PMS and periods, my joints literally throbbed (I was 25 at the time), heartburn… and this was AFTER “getting healthy”.
It was at this point that I decided to take control of the situation. I began to actually research what I was eating, how my body was working and how it could be better. Up until this point I had basically been following an “everything in moderation” mindset and focusing on calories in and calories out. This concept works well for weight loss (there’s no denying this) but is not optimum for health. My mental relationship with food was still … not okay. (You can read this post on my feelings about moderation and the mental toll it can take on a person.) While I would no longer be classified as bulimic, had mostly gotten my emotional eating into a healthy place, I was still scale obsessed, stressing constantly about simple things like having to eat in a restaurant, physically felt all the same pre-weight loss symptoms short of those directly related to the weight loss and introduction of regular exercise (more stamina, had slightly more energy..) and overall was just an unhealthy place.
Through my readings I had come across many articles, studies and books that resonated with me so hard. Everytime I would look into my symptoms past the usual weight loss, pill gimmicks that would pop up first in my searches, Most of what I read was connected back to a alternative health (or as I like to call it “original health). So I did my due dillgence and enrolled in a Holistic Nutrition Program. As I worked my way through all.the.sciences classes I learned about the inner workings of the body, and what made it tick. I also began to connect the dots back to my own health and a pattern emerged: gut and hormone health. I had always associated hormones with post-partum or menopausal women, not ‘healthy’ 26-year-olds who was most defintely not going through menopause. And gut health? yeah, no. As soon as I heard the term ‘gut health’ I, for some reason, envisioned explosive diarrhea and stomach worms, neither of which I had! (Hey, it was a learning experience!)
I was fortunate enough at this point to find a new family doctor who had 2 children – one diagnosed with Celiac and another heavily gluten-sensitive. This was a total game changer for me. Many people think Celiac disease is just a food allergy, but it’s actually an autoimmune disease. When someone has an autoimmune disease their body quite literally is attacking itself. NO WONDER I FELT LIKE SOMEONE WAS EATING MY INSIDES. The symptoms experienced by Celiacs and anyone else suffering from one of the many autoimmune diseases out there are so broad, often vague, seem to have no connection to each other and vary from person to person.
As I researched Celiac Disease beyond the basic understanding of avoiding gluten, I began to take an extra interest in the inner workings of hormones and gut health. Our hormones and bacteria quite literally have the ability to make or break our health. They control our moods and mental health, our body’s ability to absorb nutrients, our digestive system and health of our organs.. again, seriously. NO WONDER I FELT LIKE CRAP. It didn’t matter what I was putting into my body, my body was attacking itself and making me sick.
When I switched to a gluten-free diet and lifestyle, I also took the opprtunity to switch to a plant-based diet. I still ate animal products, but 95% of my meals were completely plant-based (I allowed for a buffer, family events etc.). The key to healing your guts, supporting your adrenals (the hormone hub), endocrine system (the carrier of the hormone ‘messages’), building up your immunity and supporting overall health was nutrients and a strong, healthy digestive system. As I was reading and further educating myself I simply could not find a valid reason not to switch to plant-based diet. All I kept coming up with was reasons to do it, and questions to dispute an animal-based diet. If I’m supporting my digestive system to aid in it’s healing, why would I provide it with slow and hard to digest rotting animal? Why would I put dairy, which is even getting a bad rap from mainstream health advocates, into my body when it has shown to increase inflammation and be linked to so many health problems? Why would I not just give my body easy to break down and absorb plant-based foods instead?
This was 6 years ago, and to this day I still ask those same questions. As the years have went on, I have had a couple pregnancies, breastfed, had to adjust to the hormones of those events, plus normal life stresses and I still feel my healthiest self on a plant-based diet.
Anytime I feel myself becoming moody, grouchy, easy stressed out, sleepless, bloated, tempted to binge or craving junk food, fatigued or any of those other symptoms sneaking up on me I immediately know why: I’m straying from a plant-based approach and my gut and hormones are becoming unbalanced. Sometimes this is because I just really wanted real cheese on my pizza or I simply became lazy and started to buy more and more premade vegan foods. Within a matter of days once I switch back to fresh, whole plant-based meals I feel the return of my healthy, normal self.
…whatever normal is…