My journey started years ago as a very unhealthy young adult. At that time, I suffered from depression, acne, IBS, allergies, asthma, aches, and pains, and was a few pounds away from being classified as obese. I had just watched my beloved grandfather pass away from complications of diabetes, which made me realize that if I didn’t change something, I could be heading down the same path!
At the time, I knew nothing about food.
I was a child of the '80s, growing up with "food" that mostly came from a box. My parents were busy, hardworking adults who did their best but didn’t have time to prepare home-cooked meals. When I left the house as a young adult, I couldn’t cook even the simplest meals.
I decided to devote an entire year to getting healthy and educating myself about real food. Needless to say, it was a huge learning curve. Up to that point, my diet consisted mostly of sugary cereal, white bread, frozen meals, fast food, and lots and lots of candy. During this time I didn’t try any quick-fix diets, which I truly believe changed the course of my life for the better. I was starting from scratch to reboot my body with real food.
I started eating vegetables and fruits regularly for the first time in my life (seriously!).
I began incorporating protein like chicken, beef, and turkey at my three main meals. Before this, my "protein source" had never, ever crossed my mind. Also, I made a point to eat healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and coconut oil. Before that I'd had no clue that good fat was important in the diet. Perhaps the biggest change was cutting out processed grains and sugar, which meant no more juice (my main staple beverage up until then). Most of the time, I drank water. What a difference all these changes made in my health—and life!
To begin with, my depression lifted, I no longer suffered from aches and pains, my IBS improved, I had a significant reduction in allergies, my skin cleared up, and I lost 50 pounds! I wasn’t expecting such a dramatic shift, but the health benefits I gained just by eating real food created a passion for nutrition that I still have 16 years later.
After my year-to-health journey, I decided to go back to school and get my master’s in nutrition so I could teach others about real food and help them with their health, which I do today for a family-run company in Minnesota called Nutritional Weight & Wellness.
Five years into my real-food experiment I was feeling great, but I hadn’t figured out how to get a handle on my chronic asthma.
I was still having regular asthma attacks and was on prescription meds and using steroids for extreme flares a couple times a year. Finally, I sat down with a nutritionist, and she quickly noticed a couple of problem foods that might be contributing to my asthma issues. First, she suggested I go gluten- and dairy-free because both foods can be problematic for an autoimmune condition like asthma. I wasn’t sure this was going to make much of a difference, but I agreed to a six-week elimination diet of gluten and dairy. Truly by week one, I noticed a difference, and by week four, I stopped using my rescue inhaler! This proved it—gluten and dairy were inflammatory foods for me.
I was so curious about my dramatic results that I spent a good chunk of time in graduate school researching the science behind my asthma recovery from cutting out gluten and dairy. The common link between all autoimmune conditions is chronic inflammation and a leaky gut. I had both. Think of autoimmune conditions as the immune system going haywire and confusing your own body tissue as an enemy it needs to attack, creating tissue damage and more inflammation. It can become a vicious cycle. But what's driving this attack? That is where gluten and dairy can come in. For people with autoimmune diseases, eating gluten and/or dairy can possibly trigger the immune system to create inflammation. For me, that inflammation was an asthma attack. For someone who has an autoimmune thyroid condition (like Hashimoto’s disease), it would be an attack on their thyroid. Another problem with both gluten and dairy for people with autoimmune conditions is that when the immune system is in a state of confused hyperdrive, it can recognize the molecular structure of gluten or casein in dairy as an invader that needs attacking. Unfortunately, we have similar tissue structures in our own body that also go under attack by mistaken identity, fueling the autoimmune disease.
So, here I am at 36, still eating gluten- and dairy-free whole, real foods with no asthma attacks (and no asthma medications anymore!), without depression or aches and pains, and stable weight for 15 years, even after two pregnancies. I am healthier now than I was at 20 years old. If you remember one thing from my story, it’s that food matters. I am a true testament to how it can either break your health or make your health.