*The following is my personal health story and is not to be taken as medical advice nor to be used as any form of medical treatment for personal use.*
Like many of you, I lived a seemingly normal life as a child eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) just like all my friends did. I grew up in a small town, went to school and ate the typical cafeteria lunches, enjoyed junk food, ate processed food every single day, and I was taken to the doctor when I got sick because that’s what you were supposed to do. If I was sick, I was given typical prescription medications just like everyone else was.
Needless to say, I developed serious health issues as a child. It started when I was a baby and suffered from colic, which I now know from my education experience is a sign of imbalanced gut bacteria. I also developed several autoimmune disease symptoms and systemic candida overgrowth in my early adolescence years, although no one knew it at the time or even knew what those health issues were.
As many people can probably recall, back in the 1990’s no one knew much about autoimmune diseases, gut health, or systemic candida. This was unfortunate because it caused me (and many others) to live with horrific health issues and clear warning signs until I was 20 years old. The foods I grew up eating (fried food, fast food, and tons of refined sugar) were clearly taking their toll on me while I just thought I was eating “normal” as it was called back then.
When my Health Story Really Began:
Taking a step back, my largest health issue became noticeable when I was just a teenager.
I developed epilepsy starting at age 14 “out of nowhere” with my seizures appearing at the worst of times… the lunch table, during a volleyball match, at dinner with my family, and even out in public and on vacation. This all came along with intense acne, waves of disordered eating, crazy mood swings that went beyond the average teenage hormonal ups and downs, and mild depression that grew into major depression which I tried to hide from everyone.
Not to mention the chronic yeast infections, irregular menstrual cycles, insatiable sugar cravings, and every symptom of systemic candida yeast overgrowth that exist.
Then there were the self-esteem issues…
I had always felt at odds with (and in) my body, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that the symptoms became strong enough for me to know that deep down inside, something was wrong.
Like any other teenager, I was taken to the doctor and was immediately put on medication for birth control for acne and hormonal imbalances, two different seizure medications, and was given three different types of anti-depressants over the course of just 4 years. Despite all this, I managed to be a straight A student and lived a seemingly normal life to others.
I was what others called “the pretty girl” in high school. I played volleyball, was a cheerleader, was always on the honor roll, and had great friends, but I always had low self-esteem and never really felt like I belonged even though I couldn’t understand why. I dismissed it as just “being me” even though I can’t really ever say I felt healthy or vibrant at any point in my life as a young woman.
After being on medication nearly my entire teenage life, I finally had a breakdown due to immense depression during the first year of college due to severe grief from a variety of losses in my personal life, including my family splitting up, friends moving away, a major breakup with someone I loved, losing other people that were extremely important to me, trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, living with someone new in college, and attempting to cope with the loss of most all security as I knew it.
Within one year, the medication, the way I was eating, and depression had taken a severe toll on me, my health, and sadly, my relationship with food and my body. At this point, I developed many unhealthy eating habits and disordered views on my body and my health.
And although I felt alone and confused, this was the turning point for me on my road to a better life as I began learning to finally love food, health, and myself again. It was not—and has not been— an easy road for me, but without this time in my life, I’m not sure I would be alive and well as I am today. Right after a major nervous breakdown when I was just 19 years old, I finally woke up. I decided that once and for all that it was up to me to take care of myself and that no one could help me do it but me. In short, I had tunnel vision and all I saw was wellness and getting better, despite not having anyone else to support me or help me.
My Introduction to Holistic Health:
So at just 20 years old, I started a journey I knew nothing about: natural health and healing. Although I’d been a straight-A student all my life, I had to start relying on a whole new type of knowledge I’d never embraced: intuition and self-motivation.
After months of research, in 2004, I chose to pursue a holistic health approach to overcome my seizure disorder, hormonal acne, and depression based on many studies I found through organizations like John Hopkins Medical University. I actually came across these articles on accident, but after looking into the research I was convinced at what I found.
The premise of the diet was to eat a whole foods diet free of sugar, refined grains, and rich in fresh foods like vegetables, low-sugar fruits (avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers), and greens, along with moderate amounts of healthy proteins and healthy fats. Most importantly, the diet eliminated all sources of added sugar, flour, and anything made with them (such as cookies, bread, crackers, white flour, etc.).
The theory of this way of eating would balance neurotransmitter activity and improve blood sugar levels that influenced epilepsy and is very similar to a ketogenic diet but much less strict. It is very similar to a Paleo diet but much lower in starchy carbohydrates and fruit. At the time, it was known as Atkins for Seizures, however, I didn’t eat a ton of meat, butter, and cheese like the Atkins diet calls for. In fact, the only animal proteins I really ate were plain yogurt and fish and eggs/egg whites. I grew up eating meat my entire life, but I slowly started finding it less-than-appetizing and gradually shifted away from eating it. This was right around the time I also discovered the benefits of a vegetarian diet, although I was far from reaching the point of wanting to eat a plant-based diet like I am at today, 13 years later.
At the time, I was just 20 years old, and although I was scared to even attempt an alternative path to health, I was more scared to live with depression, seizures, and a cabinet full of medications that made me miserable and even sicker.
I knew something was wrong with the way I felt and was living and that it had to change. And I knew I was the only one who could change my health. I no longer trusted doctors to help me; they hadn’t gotten me very far as it was. In fact, I’m convinced that the medical industry actually made my health much worse than better. I wish someone had taught me about real nutrition and the way the human body actually works.
So, I decided to teach myself and to actually learn about what was causing my health problems. Then, I decided to fix it myself.
And the Healing Began:
I knew I had to let go of everything I’d ever known regarding food and diets. So I dove headfirst into a new life and started studying natural health. I even joined a gym with the only friend I had at the time, I began reading health and nutrition books, and I started feeding myself real food for the first time in my life even though I didn’t even know how to cook! At first, I ate the same things over and over again just because I was trying to get used to living without sugar, processed food, excessive amounts of meat, and fast food. I had to keep it simple and easy for myself.
No one around me could relate to what I was doing. My family didn’t eat healthy foods, and although my mom cooked a lot, it was mostly southern food which was very rich and often fried. My mother was very supportive as was my brother and father, though. Although they didn’t know why I was eating healthier, they supported me on my journey even though I did it all alone.
I think this period of my life was exactly what inspired me to do what I do today because it taught me to have a relationship with food in a healthy way again without depending on others to feed me, cook for me, or tell me what to eat. I just started cooking my own foods and learning as much as I could about natural health. It was during this time I realized that my passion for food and health was born.
A New Start:
For the first time in my life, I learned to love vegetables and realized food could taste good even if it wasn’t fried or filled with sugar and white flour. I was amazed at how excited I got over shopping for groceries by focusing on what I could have and by teaching myself to read labels. My diet was based on whole foods, and previously all I knew how to eat was food in packages or from a drive-thru. I learned to love how simple spices could make a dish more exciting, and I loved learning how to sweeten foods naturally instead of using added sugars like syrups and refined sugar.
I also learned to educate myself on what sugar looked like on a label, how to look at ingredient lists on food products, and how to know exactly what those words meant and if it came from sugar or a refined grain. I quit eating meat for good at this point because I had no desire to prepare it myself, and since I was cooking all of my meals, I naturally became a vegetarian by default.
Within a month of the new way of eating, I was free of seizures without taking any medication. Medications that I had been on for five – six years were no longer needed. That was huge to me! I know that sounds insane, but it’s true. I was shocked and as hard as it was for me, I knew I had to keep going.
Even though it was hard for me to give up sugar (something I thought I could never do), I pushed through into one month of living without sugar and fast food and just kept at it. My depression slowly eased up. Three months later, my hormonal acne was gone. The extra 40 pounds I put on during my period of depression slowly started to melt away over the course of the next year.
The most important thing I did, however, was to make sure I focused on what healthy foods that I could eat when I shopped for food versus thinking about all the foods I wasn’t eating anymore. This helped me stay positive, inspired, and over time my love for health and nutrition grew tremendously. I am 100% convinced this lesson was what has propelled me to get to the point I am at today and become more aware of my food choices and how they affect my body and health.
Hard? Yes? Worth It? Completely!
It definitely wasn’t an easy road for me at first. In fact, I kept a journal to write down my feelings and help myself remember why I got started. I also prayed and asked for God’s strength too. Now it’s so easy to choose healthy foods when I eat that I never have to even think about it. And I was a former sugar and bread FIEND before that, so I can promise you that if I can change, anyone can.
By 2005, I felt strong, vibrant, and truly alive! I loved working out. In fact, for the first time in years, I had enough confidence to go out in public without makeup or without looking perfect because my skin was so clear and healthy. I woke up early every morning with plenty of energy. I wasn’t just proud of myself, I was more grateful than anyone could have imagined.
That was over a decade ago.
And by the grace of God, I have been 100% free of medication and seizures since 2004. I still use natural remedies to battle my depression, but mainly rely on plant-based foods, exercise and daily movement, quiet time, self-reflection, journaling, prayer, and yoga. Above all the things that I have tried for depression and healing over the years, I have found a plant-based diet, daily long walks, nature, time to myself, and yoga to work wonders. The human body CAN heal itself when it is given the right nourishment. I honestly don’t think I’d be alive today without these natural options.
I never ever miss the old way I used to eat, live, and am so grateful that I dealt with the struggles I had with my health all those years ago. Otherwise, I would have never ended up where I’m at today. I’d probably still be living off drive-thru hamburgers, tubs of mint chocolate chip ice cream, milkshakes, and loads of cookies, bread, and sugary cereals if you want to know the truth.
A Passion Leads to a Career Choice:
I started out as a psychology major in college, then transferred to a journalism major two years later. I have always been fascinated by the human body, the mind, and writing. However, my journey with health inspired me so much that I decided to spend four additional years in school so I could get my degree in nutrition and dietetics.
I not only wanted to learn more about nutrition but also use my creative writing talent to help others with nutrition too.
That is what inspired me to ultimately create this blog and start sharing my recipes with others. I truly love food and speaking through fun, creative, and healthy food is something I think is important when showing others what it means to eat healthy without feeling deprived or bored.
My Introduction Into Plant-Based Living and Where I’m at Today:
But my story really still end there.
I ate the same way (mostly pescatarian and lower carb) for almost a decade before changing anything, until 2013 to be exact. I supposed part of me was scared to change what I knew, and the other part just assumed I’d always eat the way. However, things started to change for me, slowly. Especially ethically speaking. I also noticed that my hormones needed something different than what I had been giving them as I entered my 30’s (specifically, more carbohydrates and less animal protein). My hormones just felt off, I started having severe gut issues and blood sugar imbalances, and I dealt heavily with insomnia.
So, naturally, I started doing more research. I discovered many things through my research, mainly about how animal proteins can harm the human body, how animals are treated and abused, (along with marketing for profit as food), and how our healthcare system really works.
I also learned that many of the things we are taught growing up about health are completely false and that most of us have been lied to our entires lives about how food gets to our plate. This led me to immediately change my diet, and ultimately, become a whole food, plant-based vegan… but not with complete ease.
Although I wanted to go vegan overnight because I truly believe in not eating animals, it has taken me YEARS to help my body adjust to a fully vegan, plant-based diet because my body has dealt with so many issues over the years.I have always had digestive ups and downs, which have been escalated by a long period of chronic stress and hormonal changes in my late 20’s. Because of this, my gut health has been the biggest health concern for me the last 5 years. I have to be very careful about what I eat and how I take care of myself with food. It’s the critical factor in how I feel every single day, and I know that at any moment if I don’t take care of myself, my health conditions I suffered from as a child could instantly return.
Yet, I still have an incredible passion around the ethics of not eating animals, especially with how they are produced today and the way they are treated and sold and used as food for profit. Our country abuses and takes advantage of animals in so many ways, we are lied to think we need them to survive, and yet, something inside me just became more and more offended by that. I didn’t want to be a part of it at all.
So I detached myself from a system that likes to control the way we think about ourselves, animals, and our health, and instead, I listened to my heart and my body.
I simply began eating real, plant foods and applied what I learned and knew about nutrition. No diets, no rules, just pure plants and listening to my body.
Powered by Plants and Passionate about Sharing it With Others
In all, a plant-based diet without any animal products makes me feel my best and suits best with my personal beliefs around food and nutrition. I have also found that a plant-based diet has greatly improved my skin, mood, and has helped lower my blood sugar levels on profound levels. Diabetes and heart disease both run in my family, I had two grandfathers die from it the same year (in 2016), and I personally don’t want to be another victim. A plant-based diet is the only diet proven to prevent and reverse heart disease and type 2 diabetes. I’m so passionate about sharing that news with others through recipe creation, freelance writing about nutrition and health, and spreading the word about how easy and delicious a plant-based, vegan lifestyle can be.
What is a whole foods plant-based diet? When I say a whole foods plant-based diet, I mean one without any animal products at all and made of only whole foods without any added sugar, refined grains, or oils (which are refined foods void of real nutrition).
Plants that are in their whole form (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, root veggies) are what makes up a plant-based diet. Not animals, not sugar, not processed junk. It’s actually SO easy that most people overlook the basics of how simple it is to eat this way. (All the foods I keep regularly in my kitchen can be found here if you want specifics of what I eat in a given week.)
I LOVE the way I feel eating real food and get excited just stocking up on all kinds of healthy options at the store each week. I also love that a plant-based diet has helped me be able to eat more healthy sources of whole food carbohydrates such as fresh fruit, whole grains like oats, sweet potatoes, and wild rice which I used to avoid when I first started eating healthier in my early 20’s.
My gut health, hormones, and mood health have all vastly improved over time the longer I have continued to eat this way. I can’t recommend a plant-based diet more highly to anyone! If you want to learn more about plant-based nutrition, you can also see my Resources page.
How My Story Relates to My Recipes:
The recipes on this blog are all free of added sugar, they are all plant-based (vegan), oil-free, and free of any refined grains. Almost all of them are also gluten-free and many are even grain-free. They are all also very easy to prepare and don’t take a lot of time in the kitchen. I want to inspire people to just eat more plants in creative and fun ways no matter how they choose to eat in their day to day life. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring!
I believe there’s a form of healthy eating that works for everyone, but I also believe in the power of plants. So it’s my goal to share a variety of healthy plant-based recipes on this blog that (most) anyone can enjoy. I also share more than food! I love sharing natural living tips, nutrition information, and positive thoughts on healthy eating, body image, and plant-based living.
Thanks for joining me! You can also learn more me and The Soulful Spoon here, and if you have any questions or a request for a post, don’t hesitate to reach out!