An Apology and Message to Myself…And You

If there’s anything you read here on this blog, please let it be this.

If you’re new to this space of mine, I hope you start here…If you’ve been following along and have shared in my struggles, I hope this message shines a light.

I know 2020 left us facing many difficult, challenging times, and maybe some heartbreaking, soul-crushing moments, BUT I know with utmost certainty that I would not be the same person I am today had the year been any different.

Imagine, if you will, a puzzle. One thousand pieces, all black, with multiple ways to fit together…But only one way to completely connect – To fully click and stay together. That was my decades long journey to health. Numerous attempts, methods, a million outside voices, forward movement only to get knocked back several steps. I spent years trying desperately to force pieces together while ignoring others, and I progressively got worse. But last year was filled with a number of ‘aha’ moments, and suddenly, as if by magic, the puzzle gained radiant colors, and the solution was clear.

Twenty-twenty was a year that wrecked me in a few ways (some of which you can relate) – A global pandemic, missing loved ones, and adjusting to a new “normal.” But the last four months were incredibly, and forever, life-changing – both good and bad. As much as 2020 brought intense heartache and grief and widespread adjustment, I am also very grateful for pieces of it. Without being forced to lockdown and stay home more, I know that I would have kept up the fast pace and ignored what needed to be done all along. I was given the chance to finally HEAL. To zoom in on the areas that needed attention and to truly focus on self-care. In a society where people preach self-care and self-love, I wanted to actually take the steps…take action. Walk the talk, if you will.

If you’re new here, then you might not know my history with varied “diets,” restrictions, digestive issues, mental upset, and emotional ups and downs. Maybe you’ve been there – A constant spiral or waves of good and bad days. I’m here to tell you that (1) you are NOT alone, and (2) you are NOT stuck. There is hope…And I promise I’ll get to the happy ending of my personal story. Grab a cup of coffee (or tea) and maybe a snack, because this could will be a long post.

And maybe you’ve been reading these posts of mine for a few years (I’m sending a virtual hug to you). Then you know that my relationship with food has not been easy. It was complicated and frustrating and discouraging. And I felt utterly defeated.

I went from being vegan to being vegan and gluten-free. Then I went soy-free and later eliminated all corn products. When I was at my absolute worst, I did a stretch where I followed the autoimmune protocol (AIP) while remaining vegan…So that meant zero grains, legumes, nuts/seeds, nightshades. I felt better for a period of time, but mealtimes were depressing. It’s also not easy when you have people all over social media preaching what foods to eat to heal or what expensive superfoods or supplements to incorporate. Most of all, people were very adamantly sharing foods you should eliminate or avoid. They were demonizing or vilifying certain foods, and for those who were struggling with health, those statements were alluring. Hearing someone rattle off a list of symptoms and connecting the relief found with dietary changes will definitely attract attention and the desire to follow in their lead. But it wasn’t just in social media…There were many claims in several of the books I read. There was some overlap, but there was also a lot of conflicting information. In the end, I began to fear so many foods, which not only ramped up my anxiety, but it also hindered healing properly.

Some other common themes that I noticed in my days on social media…

  • Anti medication and pro herbal supplementation
  • Anti traditional doctors and pro naturopaths
  • Self diagnosing and self-healing
  • No research to support the claims that these influencers were making AND there was a lack of scientific evidence.

Now, by no means am I hardcore for or against those first two bullet points. I’m more of a “what works for you, works for you” kind of person. I spent many years working with a naturopath after numerous failed attempts at finding the right-for-me medical doctor. I also spent many years (and a lot of money) taking herbal supplements because that was the “natural” and preferred way to heal. Decades ago I was on anti-depressants and prescription migraine medications, but I suffered horrible side effects….which led me to believe that ALL prescriptions were bad, and that everyone should be able to heal in an all natural, holistic manner.

OKAY, I’m interrupting this ramble with a quick spoiler in case I’m losing some of you…I’m vegan.

JUST

VEGAN.

I have dropped EVERY. SINGLE. RESTRICTION. Even gluten….After over a decade ago being told by a gastroenterologist that I was most likely celiac. Now when someone asks what I eat, I’m no longer spewing a ridiculously long list of foods that I “can’t” eat, because I have achieved food FREEDOM. Unless you’ve lived with food sensitivities, you cannot fathom the amount of joy this brings. It is glorious to be able to ditch the: gluten-free, soy-free, grain-free, legume-free, nut-free, cauliflower-free, and a whole long list of other foods I avoided AND JUST BE. And oh my goodness…we are saving a ton of money with our grocery budget since the restrictions have melted away!

Homemade cinnamon rolls using regular wheat flour! Mind blown.

Hopefully I’ve regained your attention, because I would love to share a little bit about the steps I took to get to this point. Earlier in 2020, I read the book Fiber Fueled, and SO many lightbulbs and buzzers went off. It was a series of epic ‘aha’ moments. That is what got the ball rolling, and how my perspective began to shift. Dr. Will Bulsiewicz dedicated an enormous amount of time researching in order to write a book loaded with scientific evidence. It is the first book that got me excited, motivated me, and gave me hope to finally heal…And I have read A LOT of books. Not only does he clear up some misinformation running rampant on social media and claims made in other health/diet books, but he takes on a full lifestyle approach. If you’ve read his book and are skeptical of the idea that you can reverse food sensitivities, I am living proof that it is absolutely possible.

Fast forward to September 2020 (if you read my previous post you already know a bit of this information) when I was gifted the 7-Week Plant Fed Gut Health Course held by Dr. B himself. Little did I know just how much my life would change. Each week he covered a different topic/theme:

  1. Guts & Plants & Microbiome (Oh My!)
  2. The Real Reason You’re Sick. Navigate to Your True Diagnosis
  3. Hey Doc! What’s My Poop Telling Me?
  4. Bust Fiber Myths and Rock Your F-Goals
  5. What’s Damaging Your Gut?
  6. Seven Ways to Heal Your Gut Without Lifting a Fork
  7. Your Guide to Supplements 101

Every Monday night Dr. B would host a live Q&A via Zoom, and M-F was the course – complete with videos to watch, a workbook, and a private Facebook group for members of the course to connect and support one another. Being able to chat with people who were experiencing the same obstacles was huge. Gone were the feelings of isolation and defeat as we cheered one another on, encouraged each other when times felt hard, and we celebrated the victories.

When I started the course (and several months prior), I was bloated pretty much every day. Almost everything I ate caused me to bloat and feel heavy, and I was carrying at least 15 pounds* of extra weight despite working out every single day. I was depressed, anxious, stressed, my hormones were all over the place, and I thought that that was just how my life was going to be. The Plant Fed Gut Health Course not only provided me with the tools to heal, but it also shined a light on what was holding me back….Trauma. Through this course, I learned that you could be doing everything right, but if you have open trauma wounds, you will never properly heal. It will always be lurking underneath if you don’t face it head on. You might make some steps of progress, but it won’t be long-lasting.

*By no means did I think I was overweight or fat, but I just didn’t feel my best. And we don’t own a scale in our household – I found out my weight at the doctor’s office which solidified that something was off.

When I shared a little bit about that specific ‘aha’ moment in the private FB group, everyone was incredibly supportive and suggested the idea that I find a therapist to work with. Some even went as far as sharing their success stories after having worked with a therapist. So that was my second step to finally healing….Therapy. It had been over 12 years since I worked with a therapist and the thought of finding one in the middle of a pandemic felt daunting. BUT the first person on my list to try ended up being the perfect fit for me – Her empathic listening and holistic approach was (and still is) exactly what I needed. She also came at a very fortuitous time in my life, the most heartbreaking moment of my year….My first Zoom session with her happened to be scheduled just two days after the sudden passing of my Oma in November. Having someone recognize and allow those difficult emotions to manifest was crucial. She helped me to be kinder to myself, to face and process the grief in my own way. And she continues to work with me through my past trauma by providing the necessary tools – whether it’s book recommendations, coping mechanisms, or guiding me through how to shift my thinking. To say she’s helped me on this path to healing is a gross understatement. I am forever grateful for her and the impact she has had on my life.

Oma, we miss you every single day.

The third step I took was finding a doctor, and I ended up with an amazing DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine). So rather than working with someone who specializes in specific conditions and jumps to treat with medication, I am working with a doctor who is focused on whole-body healing. She’s hands-on, open to alternative treatment/holistic, and is all about disease prevention, but also recognizes when medication could be beneficial. She also came into my life right when things were happening with Oma…which leads me to another big step I took.

My anxiety got really bad last year. As did my depression. Minor panic attacks were becoming a regular thing…Being in a public space in the middle of a pandemic only amplified them. I could count on one hand how many times I had been in a store between March and December. And the passing of one of my favorite humans on this planet left me feeling unable to cope. So when my doctor recommended a super low dose of something to help with both my anxiety and depression (just one pill to be taken at night), I weighed that decision very heavily for a couple of weeks. It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time, because it ultimately played a huge role (it was a missing piece) in my healing journey. Not only did the medication provide relief in regards to my mental health, BUT it also calmed my gut.

This massive act of self-care and self-love is something I am so proud of, but it’s also something I never imagined possible. After watching and hearing about numerous social media influencers saying goodbye to the vegan diet due to digestive issues and/or mental well-being, I honestly thought (but prayed it wouldn’t) be me doing the very same. When I now take a closer look at the diets of those who left veganism behind, I now see that they were full of restriction. Most of them feared certain foods, and when their health hit rock bottom, almost every single one of them blamed the vegan diet. The sad thing is that the majority of these “influencers” hid their struggles and acted like the diet they were promoting was the best way to eat…And for those who were following these YouTube channels, blogs, Facebook accounts, or Instagram profiles, it was confusing. It left a lot of people beginning to doubt the vegan diet. What I am about to say may not apply to everyone, but here’s a big piece of information that I learned through the course I took:

Food sensitivities are a big sign of dysbiosis (a damaged gut).

Sounds crazy, right?? It’s true though – And not just because that was the cause of my issues, but because there are literally research studies to prove that is the case. When you eliminate a food, your body will treat it like a foreign object – You will feel the effects in a negative way through bloating, gas, headaches, diarrhea, constipation, or other symptoms. Take it from me – I eliminated grains and beans for years. Then one day I decided to eat them again and suffered terribly (so bloated that I looked like I was pregnant) and I feared eating those foods. I chalked it up to my body not being able to tolerate those amazing foods! Little did I know that when you go low and slow (reintroduce small amounts a little at a time), you can train your gut. Your gut is adaptable! Our gut microbiome NEEDS diversity of plants to thrive….So when you hear someone blaming the vegan diet for their digestive issues or mental health, PLEASE remember what I have shared. Other things I’ve heard floating around are people going back to consuming animal products, because they couldn’t tolerate the fiber or they were craving more protein, OR they weren’t getting enough Omega-3. Let me share some research based facts that I learned in that course:

97% of us consume an EXCESS amount of protein. We are a protein OBSESSED culture.

ALL protein originates from plants.

ALL plants and ONLY plants contain fiber.

Fiber is the preferred food of our gut microbes!

There is NO animal source of Omega-3. Fish don’t produce EPA or DHA, they get it by eating algae.

I promise you that I am not trying to preach a “right” way or push people into a plant-based diet, more than anything I just want to help shed a bit of light on some of the misinformation out there. Food should not be feared. When we restrict or eliminate certain plant foods, that only creates a sensitivity to those foods…And our gut gets weaker with elimination. Over the course of five months, I have trained my gut to be friends with ALL food again. That is all thanks to making sure I’m getting a wide variety of plants and not being a creature of habit…I stopped eating the same few things on repeat and now sometimes I’m able to eat 30+ different plants in one day. That is honestly something I never thought possible.

Our crazy foster dog!

Another message that I desperately want to get across and maybe a gentle reminder…Self-care is also incredibly crucial. Stress can manifest in the gut and please do not forget the brain-gut connection – those two communicate way more than we think. More often than not, mental and emotional upset (anxiety, stress, depression) is connected to a damaged gut. So besides eating a diverse diet, take care of your well-being. My favorite ways to practice self-care:

  • Daily yoga
  • Exercise! I aim for 5-6 days a week – whether doing 1,000 jumps via jump rope, 20-25 minutes on the rowing machine, or a cardio video, it feels great to get the heart rate going.
  • Walk/hike outside
  • Daily meditation (my favorite is using Insight Timer)
  • SLEEP! These last few months I have created a great routine where I am in bed by 10-10:30 and wake around 7. My body has thrived on consistency.
  • FaceTiming or Skyping with friends and family
  • Journaling
  • Reading
  • My last hour or so before bed is without a screen (no phone, Kindle, etc.).
  • Upon waking up, rather than immediately grabbing my phone to check what I may have “missed,” I pick up my daily devotions/affirmations book and read the entry for the day.

Sharing all of this with you is due to two things:

  1. I get emails through this blog inquiring about my diet, and when I look at the posts that get the most views, they’re generally all from my days of following the AIP diet. People are struggling and are restricting/eliminating SO many foods. Not only can I relate wholeheartedly, but now that I am on the other side of this, I’m able to recognize how I should have handled things differently. Moving forward, I’m excited to share new recipes I’ve created and ones that have tried and loved. Eating has never been so much fun and stress-free!!
  2. I had the ABSOLUTE honor of being interviewed by Dr. Will Bulsiewicz himself! So if you’re reading this and you’re enrolled in his current course (January 2021), you got the chance to hear my interview in the first week. The outpouring support that I received from that interview moved me to tears. Hearing how many people related to my story blew me away, and knowing that I was able to provide a little bit of hope during a hard, dark time made my heart feel good. It also made me want to share some of my full story here in this very post.

If you made it to the very end of this post, thank you. Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my words, my rambles, and support me. I will leave you with a few last words…

There is ZERO shame in asking for help. Whether that is talking to a therapist or agreeing to try a prescription medication. Nothing is forever, and sometimes we need a boost to get through hard times.

AND finally…I deeply apologize if I ever caused you to fear food through any of my writing in the past. If I ever made you doubt yourself or question your food choices, PLEASE know that was never my intention. Every single one of us needs to find what makes us happy, what makes us feel good – And that will look different for everyone. My wish for all of you reading this is that you are happy, healthy, and safe. You deserve to feel good inside and out, and I would love to be here in any way that I can to support that. Whether it’s me creating an online support group somehow, or you can send me an email through my contact page, please let me know.

I am sending all of you so much love ❤

Mandy