*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 I had 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 nutrition therapy was to eat a whole foods diet free of refined sugar, refined grains, fried and processed foods. The diet (at that time)was rich in fresh foods like greens, vegetables, low-sugar fruits (avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, berries), and greens, along with moderate amounts of healthy proteins and small amounts of healthy fats. Most importantly, the diet eliminated all sources of refined sugar, flour, and anything made with them (such as cookies, bread, crackers, fried food, white flour, etc.).
The theory of this way of eating was to enhance nutritional intake with real foods, which would balance neurotransmitter activity and improve blood sugar levels that influenced epilepsy. The most important part of the plan was that it helped me transition away from packaged foods, fried food, and refined sugars and refined grains, which was nearly impossible for me to do otherwise. I didn’t see it as a traditional “diet” but more of a change I was making for my health which also helped take the focus off my physical appearance and put more of an emphasis on my mental health.
It was also a great experience for me to start learning about how foods actually affected my body, and I am grateful to have learned how many negative effects that refined sugars, fried foods, and refined foods actually had on brain function. This experience also helped me to learn to enjoy real foods like fruits and vegetables for the first time in my life.
Around this time, I naturally became a vegetarian because I had to start cooking my own foods and had zero desire to actually handle meat or chicken. 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 even though I was far from reaching the point of wanting to eat a plant-based diet like I am at today, 13 years later. I was a vegetarian for a decade before making any major changes and that alone provided so many health benefits that helped me get to where I am today.
I was only 20 years old at the time my journey began and had a busy schedule with school and work. Still, I had to teach myself how to cook all my new healthy meals, so you can imagine how less-than-impressive they were, but I slowly started enjoying healthy foods the more I ate them and found new ways to prepare them. And although I was scared to change and even attempt an alternative path to health, I was even more scared to live with depression, seizures, and a cabinet full of medications that made me miserable and sick. I came from the south with zero education or exposure to healthy living, so I am living proof that anyone can make a positive change if they have the right motivation.
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 really know that much about cooking. At first, I ate the same things over and over again just to help myself transition, and then later I learned to expand my choices.
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 at home when I was a child, it was mostly southern food which was very rich and often fried. My mother was very supportive of me eating healthier, though, as were my brother and late father.
Sure, I sometimes felt alone on the journey, but I wasn’t ever scared to change because of how good I started to feel. I actually started having a new sense of confidence in myself that I hadn’t experienced my entire life, or at least not in that same way.
In fact, 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–even if they weren’t perfect–and learning as much as I could about natural health and nutrition.
A New Start:
For the first time in my life, I learned to love real food. 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 with things like fruit.
I also learned to educate myself on what refined sugar looked like on a label, how to look at the ingredient lists on food products, and how to know exactly what those words meant and if it came from refined sugar, hydrogenated fats, refined oils, or a refined grain. I was shocked how much junk was in the foods I had been eating all my life, but what was even more surprising was how everything with my health just kept getting better. My skin glowed for the first time in years and excess weight from the depression binge eating just kept coming off. The energy I had was almost crazy! But the best part was how clear I was able to think.
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 to 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 my old ways, I pushed through and 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. More importantly, I felt like I belonged in my mind and body for the first time in years. I felt solid, strong, confident, and peaceful inside; I learned to start listening to my body as a result. That was priceless!
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, kept me from feeling restricted, and over time my love for health and nutrition grew tremendously. I never counted calories, weighed myself, or made food about numbers because I don’t think that’s the point of eating healthy. Eating healthy is about filling our bodies up with REAL food nutrition, that’s it. 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 on a daily basis. 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 monster and white 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. I found like I had a new lease on life and I never looked back.
That was over a decade ago, 13 years to be exact.
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 and 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. And although I have had to sort out other health issues, such as re-establishing a healthy gut after half a lifetime of neglect, I have kept going and continued to see positive changes in my health.
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 in the midst of my health journey. 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 I also desired to use my creative writing talent to help others with nutrition as well.
All of these things played a part in me feeling inspired me to create this blog and start sharing my recipes with others. I truly love food and creating healthy and fun, creative (easy) recipes is something that I believe is important when showing others what it means to eat healthy without feeling deprived or becoming bored.
My Introduction Into Plant-Based Living and Where I’m at Today:
I ate the same way (vegetarian) for almost a decade before changing anything, until 2013 to be exact. However, things started to change for me slowly, especially ethically speaking. I also noticed that my hormones changing as I entered my 30’s and decided to make another change. After watching some films and doing a lot of research and reading, (and listening to my inner instinct) most importantly, I decided to pursue a fully plant-based vegan diet in 2013, although I definitely struggled at first. I was a yogurt junkie, and dairy products were hard for me to give up. However, just like refined sugar, once I got used to living without it, I now feel so much better without dairy in my life! In fact, once I gave up dairy and other animal products (mainly fish and occasionally eggs), my blood sugar stabilized in a way that I can’t even begin to explain. It has been a surreal process that can only be experienced on a personal level and my body now tolerates healthy foods and foods like fruit and whole grains in a way it was never able to do before.
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, 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 one made of only whole foods without refined sugar, refined grains, or added oils. For me, it’s not a form of restriction but more about making every bite count when it comes to eating each day. I value giving my body healthy foods because I know what doing so has done for my health for over a decade.
I also credit my success living this way to a number of healthy women in this space, and to Dr. John McDougall, whose books and website has gotten me to the healthiest place I’ve ever been and helped me combat health issues I experienced in my late twenties and early 30’s such as stomach ulcers, gut issues and inflammation, and other digestive issues. Other doctors in the field such as Dr. Joel Kahn, Dr. Neal Barnard from PCRM, Dr. Michael Greger, and Dr. T. Colin Campbell have also been incredibly helpful to me through their works in this space. (See my Resources page for more and for all of these doctor’s websites).
What is plant-based?
Plants that are in their whole form (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, root veggies) are what makes up a plant-based diet. When you think of it this way, it’s actually so simple and so easy to remember without seeming overwhelming. Plus, the possibilities within each of these food groups are HUGE! (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 green leafy vegetables, plant-based proteins, and most importantly, whole food carbohydrates such as fresh fruit, whole grains like oats, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat, not to mention sweet potatoes, wild rice, and brown rice. I used to avoid so many of these foods when I first started eating healthier in my early 20’s because I thought they had “too many carbs” or natural sugars. Our bodies NEED these foods to thrive, and without them, problems will occur over time. We weren’t meant to live life without healthy carbohydrates, and when we avoid them, that’s when we crave refined sugar and other refined foods because our bodies aren’t getting the nutrition they need.
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 animal products, added oil, refined grains, and refined sugar (and very little added sugar, if any). Almost all of my recipes are gluten-free, although I do not eat completely gluten-free. My recipes are all very easy to prepare and don’t require much time in the kitchen. I am not a gourmet cook, nor do I have time to be, and that’s not what healthy eating is about. I like to keep things simple, fun, and healthy as much as possible!
Most importantly, 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, and plants are more powerful than you could ever imagine! 🙂
The bottom line is that 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 anyone can enjoy. I also share more than food! I love sharing natural living tips, nutrition information, my favorite products, giveaways from time to time, lifestyle tips and wellness posts, 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!