How I Started Feeling Good Again After 10 Years Of Chronic Illness

mbg Contributor By Amie Valpone
mbg Contributor
Amie Valpone is a Manhattan-based chef, culinary nutritionist, professional recipe developer, food photographer, writer and motivational speaker specializing in simple gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free ‘clean eating’ recipes.

It seems like just yesterday that I was a healthy, vibrant 20something gal living in Manhattan with my dream job in fashion. I had no idea what a green juice was or how people had the patience to meditate. I wondered why people told me to try yoga when I could do cardio instead. I popped an Advil or over-the-counter pill when I had a headache, thinking nothing of it. I took antibiotics when I was sick because that's the only option I knew.

I didn't understand why people were "going green" and making their own cleaning products. Why weren't they just buying Windex like the rest of us? I wondered why people spent money buying organic food, when conventional food looked exactly the same!

Maybe I grew up in a bubble, but I honestly didn't have a clue about any of this. I needed a wake-up call. And I got a big one.

I'm now just coming out of a decade of chronic illness and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after detoxing my food, cleaning supplies and personal care products from toxins that were making me sick. The funny thing is that I had no clue these things were toxic, because I thought toxins were chemicals with warning labels. It turns out that chemicals in food, personal care and cleaning products are the warning label toxins!

I always thought I ate healthy, slept well and exercised. I worked myself to the bone in the corporate world and felt guilty if I took time for myself to read a book, get a massage or skip the gym to go sit outside in the sunshine. When I look back, I realize how I got sick.

Fast forward 10 years. I landed on disability from my job on steroids and pain killers, spent a week at Mayo Clinic, got countless bone marrow biopsies, blood work, muscle biopsies and was diagnosed with C-diff colitis, myositis, Candida, leaky gut, Lyme disease, PCOS, and hypothyroidism to name a few. I learned how to slow down and detox. I learned how to stop trying to make everyone else happy, and how to stop trying to make my parents proud of me. I started focusing on me. If I could go back 10 years, I'd tell myself to slow down, put myself first and stop sweating the small things.

Here are a few ways I got back into my own skin, and how you can, too:

1. Don't ignore your body's messages.

I learned how to stop ignoring signs of health issues, like bloating, headaches and fatigue, and started listening to my body. I cut out foods that made me feel awful and learned how to heal my adrenals, thyroid and gut with lifestyle changes. So many of my clients ignore heartburn by using acid-suppressing pills, drink coffee at 3pm when their adrenals are burned, or use prescription creams for acne or eczema instead of looking for the root cause in the gut.

2. Use nontoxic personal care and cleaning products.

I purchase organic products to avoid toxins entering my bloodstream through my skin, which is our largest organ.

3. Schedule downtime at night.

Put it into your phone so that you get an alert to remind yourself it's time to start winding down.

4. Find a way to move your body that works for you.

I quit the gym when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and started walking outside and deep belly breathing. This helped me get my sympathetic nervous system going, rather than my parasympathetic nervous system, which was dominating my body during my illness.

5. Stop trying to put a label on yourself.

You don't have to be vegan or Paleo or any other label. Eat what you want and don't deprive yourself of the food your body wants. If your body wants almonds, enjoy a handful because it's a sign you need fat. If your body wants chicken, enjoy it because it's a sign you need protein. Don't deny what your body asks for.

6. Enjoy self-care and rest.

I schedule regular massages and other self-care activities such as Epsom salt baths, facials and manicures. Put these acts of self-care into your calendar so you don't feel depleted by the end of the week without giving yourself some TLC.

7. Stop saying "should."

The word "should" can drive you crazy. Instead of saying, "I should be doing work," or, "I should be at the gym," allow yourself to enjoy what you want to do. Want to spend your Sunday in bed watching movies? Good for you! Don't catch yourself saying, "I'm so lazy; I should go do something productive." That will just set yourself up for feeling guilty and bad about yourself.

8. Avoid comparisons.

You'll only set yourself up for being disappointed if you compare yourself to others. We all have things going on in our lives that no one else knows about, so comparing yourself to something or someone that looks perfect will only make you feel worse. Instead, focus on you and your relationship with yourself. That's the relationship you want to strengthen.

9. Be patient.

Despite the challenges I faced in the last 10 years of chronic illness, which seemed to be never-ending, I remained patient and told myself daily that I love myself and that I was doing the best I could to heal. Being patient with yourself and not pushing your body or forcing yourself to grow, heal or change overnight is important.

Our bodies need time for growth and change. Find something that helps you appreciate your body, such as prayer, meditation or sitting in stillness. Instead of pushing for something, surrender and trust that everything will happen in divine timing.

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