As part of the Gluten Free Health Challenge, Marie will be posting her journal entries on the first 3 Fridays of every month from now until December. She will also be receiving free health coaching during this time from Sarah Dochow of Nurture Nutrition and Iris Higgins of Your Fairy Angel.
Hello world! My name is Marie, and I thought I'd tell you all a little about myself, my dietary history, why I joined the Gluten Free Health Challenge, and my expectations and goals for the process.
I am a 27 year old single vegan woman living in Southern Arizona, although I am originally from New York City. I work from home on a job that is purely commission based, so I tend to work a lot and subsequently don't have much time or desire to cook for myself. Another factor that prevents me from cooking is the pure lack of healthy foods here in the desert; I live in a place where fast food is king and I quickly fell into that habit. Back in New York I lived near a 24-hour fruit market, the local grocery store carried a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan specialty foods and frozen meals, and on just about every street I could easily pick up a fresh salad, a light rice dish, smoothies- something. But here? Let's just say one of these days I'll have to take my camera to the grocery store and show you my food options, as that is the only way you'll believe how awful the "fresh' food is here. Produce literally rots on the shelves, and as most families here are poor and are forced to work long hours to pay the bills, fast food and frozen meals are in higher demand than healthy options. I'm still shocked at how hard it is to get a fresh piece of fruit around here.
I became a vegan when I was 18, but at 20 I switched to lacto-ovo vegetarianism until about a month ago. Back in New York, I still didn't do much cooking, but I tried to eat a somewhat balanced diet. Breakfast was usually coffee, at work I'd grab a salad or frozen meal of pasta or potatoes, I'd snack on fruit or yogurt, and dinner was often a sandwich or frozen vegetarian meal which I'd add some vegetables to when I was being "good." Some days I would overindulge in chocolates or cake, but I went to the gym regularly so I was able to keep my figure in check. Since moving to the desert and not having access to most of these foods, I've started eating like crap.
I didn't really realize how poorly I was eating until recently. My Arizona diet consisted of a lot of frozen pizzas, bean and cheese burritos, egg salad sandwiches from the gas station, chips, popcorn, ramen noodles without the flavor packet but with extra cheese, bread with melted cheese- are you noticing a pattern here? Tons of dairy, no fruit at all, hardly any vegetables, and tons of calories. I have gone up a jean size since moving here, which I am actually completely okay with, but what bothered me is that I just stopped feeling good in general. My insomnia became much worse so I started drinking more alcohol to try to sleep better. I stopped exercising due to lack of energy. My mood was often low and I generally felt physically and emotionally "blah."
In August 2012 I quickly developed some rather serious and scary physical symptoms. The night before my birthday I got very drunk to celebrate, and woke up on my birthday with an awful hangover. I thought, "Okay, I'm just dehydrated. I drank more than usual so of course I feel yucky- no big deal." Some friends took me out for a birthday dinner and I ended up vomiting as soon as I was done eating. I felt so guilty about that, but I figured it was just post-drinking nausea. They had also gotten me a cake which we all ate, but I couldn't finish half the slice before I had to run to the bathroom again. It passed straight through me. I vowed to never drink that much again and told myself I'd feel better the next day. Except I didn't. I got sick on my birthday and remained sick for eight months straight. I would spontaneously vomit one to three times a week, and had uncontrollable diarrhea at least two to five times a day, every single day, for eight months straight. My life was hell.
In September 2012 I went to a gastroenterologist who scheduled me for an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy for the following month, as well as a blood test to check my levels as he said my thyroid looked a bit swollen. I chickened out and never went for any of the testing. Partly because I don't have health insurance and wouldn't be able to pay for the procedures out of pocket, but mostly because I was scared of what it could be and I wanted to stay in denial.
I literally thought I was dying because what I was experiencing was just not normal. After so many months of torture, I became convinced that I would just have to live the rest of my life with chronic ongoing gastrointestinal problems. I didn't think there was ever hope of getting relief, much less getting cured.
Then, in April 2013 I switched from lacto-ovo vegetarianism to strict veganism cold turkey. I made my dietary choice purely for ethical reasons. I don't regret reincorporating dairy and eggs into my diet, but after watching a few videos of how animals are treated on factory farms, I knew in my heart that I could not in good conscience contribute to these industries any longer. On the afternoon of April 18th, I made a vow to eat purely vegan for the rest of my life, not really expecting any personal benefit, but it wasn't about that for me.
To my pure delight and joy, eating the way my conscience tells me to has indeed given me a blessing that I never would have expected: I am almost completely cured of my gastrointestinal ailments. Four days into my vegan diet, I had my last attack of diarrhea. After that, nothing. Not once since then. It may not sound like much to you but having been a slave to the toilet multiple times a day, every single day for nearly eight months straight, finally having normal bowel functions feels like the most amazing thing in the world. I mean, my health was so bad that I actually stopped going to church because I knew I couldn't last that long without an attack. I now feel like I can do anything. Oh, and not only can I do anything, but I actually want to do things! My energy has gone through the roof! I find myself deciding to exercise and go on walks just because moving my body feels good again. I still don't sleep through the night due to my work schedule being all over the place, but I find myself waking up more refreshed and ready to start my day. I haven't felt this great in a long time.
So how does being gluten free fit into the equation? Well, I'm not feeling 100 percent quite yet. I am still experiencing really intense heartburn most days of the week, and I vomited for the first time in a month last night, so I know I still have some more adjustments to make to my diet. Considering the prevalence of gluten intolerance, that just naturally seems like the next thing to eliminate. Also, I would really like to help people who are transitioning to eating gluten free. I don't have access to specialty gluten free foods, I am on a strict budget, and I have time restraints as far as cooking from scratch goes. I hope that by sharing my experiences and ideas on how to eat well with so many restrictions, someone else out there will be helped on their own journey. Mostly, I'm really competitive with myself. I like to challenge myself. I know being vegan and gluten free is going to be a huge test of my creativity and willpower, but I'm ready for it.
So the last thing I feel I should mention is my goal for the challenge. To be honest, I actually don't have any expectations. It's true, I genuinely don't know what to expect but somehow I know it will be good. My wishes are that I can completely eliminate all gastrointestinal distress for good, improve my mood, be able to sleep like a normal person, and increase my energy even more. Clearer skin would be a nice bonus too. As far as weight, I'm actually completely happy with where I am right now so I won't be tracking calories or forcing myself to exercise. I just want my body to feel good; it can look however it wants to.
And that's me, Marie. I know I am incredibly long-winded but I'm an aspiring writer so I'm used to shooting for the highest word count possible. I'll try to be more concise in the future, I swear. But I'm glad I told you all of these things about me. Maybe you can relate to some of what I've experienced, or maybe not, but either way I am really grateful that you are reading this and I hope you will join me on this challenge. Until next time, be kind to yourself.