When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition at 16, it meant little more to me than taking a small dose of synthetic thyroid hormone each morning. It was an alarming turn of events that lead to my diagnosis: Practically overnight, I became excessively fatigued and cloudy-headed, with debilitating menstrual irregularities and a host of bizarre symptoms.
I was a competitive horseback rider enrolled in prep school at the time — with a rigorous academic schedule and an exhausting training regimen to adhere to. When I became so exhausted that I lacked the energy to maintain my lifestyle, my parents took me an endocrinologist — and the rest is history.
Because of this, I had (rather skeptically) turned to a naturopathic doctor in my early 20s when western medicine fell short on symptom relief. Naturopaths are physicians who combine nature with modern science using a variety of techniques — homeopathy, botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, physical medicine, and lifestyle counseling — to treat their patients.
Holistic studies assert that good health begins with a healthy gut. Never having heard the term "healthy gut" before, I began with low enthusiasm and experienced many setbacks along the way. But once I found the right doctor, I was converted: I felt better than I had in years.
Much of my treatment plan involved my behavior and lifestyle choices, namely drastically altering my diet. In your early 20s, it's hard to suddenly be held accountable for your health. Harder still? Being told to eliminate foods containing gluten and dairy and to avoid sugar. Already a vegetarian, this left me with startlingly few options. I was instructed to prepare a special Detox Shake daily, complete with organic berries and supplements galore, in lieu of breakfast.
It turns out autoimmune illness is actually caused by inflammation in the body — and gluten and dairy are two notoriously inflammatory agents. The problem is, they're also found in most notoriously delicious foods.
As I changed my diet, a slow and gradual improvement in the quality of my life took place. I learned to avoid inflammatory foods that would activate my immune system, and how to include the nutrients, supplements, and foods in my diet that promote good health. The benefits have been incredible: clearer thinking, menstrual regularity, stabilized blood sugar, improved energy — and the list goes on! Once a sufferer of chronic insomnia, I haven't missed out on sleep in two years!
I also now have a new relationship with food. I look at certain foods as medicine and a vital part of my daily diet — like remembering to take your vitamins. It also helps to focus on behaviors I want to promote, rather than disciplining myself constantly; this simple reframing of how I thought about what I ate made the process much easier.
My diet is by no means perfect, but my digestive health has been restored — and my overall health transformed. My doctor called my cholesterol beautiful, and the difference in my mental clarity is so pronounced that some days it feels like I've gained IQ points. Plus, serotonin — the neurotransmitter associated with being calm and happy — is actually produced in the gut. So, as my digestion has improved, so has my attitude — seriously!
Eliminating gluten and dairy removed two major sources of inflammation in my body, but I also take daily probiotics, put raw, organic coconut oil in my coffee, and take vitamins and supplements from my doctor. I buy fresh, organic berries for antioxidants, and pursue health-supporting activities — like meditation and yoga — to relieve my body of unnecessary stress. I've even taken up cooking — at first out of necessity, but now, I genuinely enjoy it.
When I recently went to see my doctors, I was told my autoimmune condition appears to have been reversed.
Was it a misdiagnosis? Not exactly.
Doctors base your diagnosis on the presence of autoimmune antibodies in your blood. My lab-work indicated no such antibodies.
So how did this happen!? According to my doctor, by eliminating gluten and dairy from my diet.
Of course, food wasn't the only thing behind my condition's reversal. Another major source of inflammation is stress, to which, like most people, I am far from immune. But all in all, my health — and my lifestyle — have completely transformed.
For all the choices that felt like sacrifices, I now view the prioritization of my health as part of becoming an adult.The biggest difference is that now I feel healthy and know that I'm supporting and nourishing my body with the dietary choices I make. At the end of the day, the lab tests don't lie — I have all the confirmation I need to know that changing my diet transformed my health. And now, I'm antibody-free.