My Personal Journey with Food As Medicine

Food has so many superpowers. It has the ability to elicit pleasure, trigger memories and alter our mood. Food connects us to cultures and traditions from around the world. It brings us together. It is the one necessity we all have in common.  The darker side of food can be kryptonite-like for some.  Yet once you find the right ingredients, its ability to make you stronger and heal the body can be miraculous.

I am constantly putting this to the test.  It seems it has become the Universe’s mission to throw some hectic health situations my way but living in the time of Google I have thrown myself into endless hours of research to manage my health in a more holistic manner.  I have always sought and found relief in food.   Back in 2010, I received a Lupus diagnosis (also known as SLE).  Lupus is an autoimmune disease. Simply put, at its mildest, Lupus causes joint pain and facial rashes, at its worst it can cause organ failure.  Alopecia, fatigue and joint pain earned me a borderline diagnosis meaning it was just the beginnings of it.  I was prescribed drugs with a heavy dose of unwelcome side effects but because my symptoms were manageable, I made a conscious decision to not take them.  I promptly embarked on figuring out what the food connection was for me.  I had heard that eliminating gluten helped with arthritic conditions so that became my focus. Although the doctors back then did not think there was a correlation between lupus and food, all of my research told me otherwise. I began to modify my diet.  I added juicing and cut out the obvious foods that contained gluten.   I felt a difference in my body after just two weeks.  With a lot of self-experimentation, I confirmed that gluten was indeed my kryptonite.  Six months went by and all of my symptoms subsided. I felt good and didn’t think about the Lupus again.  I was on and off gluten and anti-inflammatory diets for the next two years with the third year fully off. Since I felt good the incentive to stay off processed foods had diminished and the temptation of a bagel with cream cheese or a New York pizza slice had become too much to resist. I was super busy with work and life and convenience began to rear its ugly head.  In early 2013 my Lupus diagnosis came back to haunt me, and this time it was no longer borderline. My panic and guilt over the bagels and pizza set in.  I knew my body well enough to understand that food choices mattered so without self-compassion I set out to blame myself and I couldn’t help but think this was something I could have prevented.  It was a tough emotional situation.

So the story continues.  After insistence from my rheumatologist that I needed to go on some awful pharmaceuticals, not to cure the disease, but only to manage the symptoms. I negotiated a deal with her. I told her to give me one month to shift my numbers and if it didn’t work I would take the drugs. I was emboldened to do this because the risk of the side effects outweighed the symptoms I was experiencing at that moment.  I continued to educate myself the layperson’s way, some great books but mostly I have to admit, food documentaries became my vice.  I binged watched them all.  Now there are so many inspiring and educational food documentaries out there but at that time, the three that sorta rocked my world were Forks Over Knives for a general education, GMO OMG to get a grip on the big deal with genetically modified foods, and because there is nothing like watching someone overcome adversity to inspire you, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead.  And recently I watched another great new one aptly named Food as Medicine, it covers quite a bit of what talk about here.  Finding inspiration to tackle a dietary lifestyle change for me is important.  It helps me prepare both psychologically and emotionally.  I became convinced that I could do this naturally.  I had a responsible timeline and my rheumatologist as a reluctant partner so if it didn’t work I would do the traditional treatment. Based on my past experience I knew that gluten was the culprit for me but I felt so terrible that I also knew I needed to reset my body. I did a juice fast for one week and then consumed green juices for breakfast and lunch, making kale very prominent in my life.  I cut out all gluten, all dairy,  all grains and added quinoa. I eliminated all sugar including fruits. I limited my intake of legumes and increased my intake of nuts.  My only indulgence was the occasional glass of red wine (accompanied by a green salad with lemon dressing) whenever I went out to dinner. I felt surprisingly fulfilled most days.  Four weeks later I found myself at the rheumatologist’s office with a smile on my face. It was working. My numbers were down.  I was on the right path.  A plant-based diet had yielded results. I continued figuring out what worked for my body slowly integrating foods back in, adding chicken, chicken broths, eggs and a few fruits.  Three months later my rheumatologist left the practice and became out of network with my insurance plan.  The new rheumatologist seemed a bit perplexed and questioned my Lupus diagnosis because my numbers did not indicate Lupus.  I cannot convey the joy I felt that day not only because of the obvious, but the discipline and experimentation had paid off.  Through feeding my body raw and natural foods I had been able to put my Lupus into full remission. I was able to maintain that level of discipline for about a year slowly expanding my choices and always treading carefully around gluten and sugar.  Four years later it has remained in remission.

We all have our own unique individual relationships with food, for some more complicated than others. I watch what I eat because it makes me feel in control and it brings me hope. I have learned to use food as a healing tool because I have to and wholeheartedly believe in its ability to heal but I also believe in western medicine and it’s healing powers.  As I work through other health issues (a journey which I will share in a different post), and I continue to manage symptoms and side effect through food and partner with my doctors.  If you yourself are struggling with a minor or major health situation I hope that the thousands of success stories that have been documented will give you inspiration.  I am also happy to say that 7 years later I have found that the medical industry is more cognizant of the relationship between chronic illnesses and diet and it is easier to find a doctor that will partner with you on this journey.

May your next meal bring love, joy, and healing.

Photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash