Growing up, I was one of the lucky ones. I ate pretty much anything I wanted without regret. Fast food, tons of carbs, sugar, you name it. During my last year of high school and all through university, I worked nights at a restaurant, which usually left me eating dinner after 10PM four or more nights a week. Sometimes I skipped meals, just because I was so busy I would forget to eat. Nothing mattered. I maintained my energy as easily as my dress size.
But then I entered my 30s and everything changed. I had chronic stomach pains, my skin began to break out, my metabolism slowed, and my jeans started to get too tight. I felt generally terrible all the time. I cried a lot and the stress from the whole experience made me feel even worse.
Finally, I decided I had to do something about my eating. While there were plenty of things I could blame for my issues (stress from work, a lack of exercise, not enough sleep), I knew that eating properly was my biggest problem and I had to fix it. My constant tummy troubles were causing ongoing anxiety and major fatigue, and I had gotten to a point where I didn’t even want to eat because I knew it would make me feel sick. It was affecting my personal life, my performance at work, and my general sense of well-being so strongly that I knew if I didn’t take it seriously, it would have major repercussions.
1. Seek (the right kind of) professional help.
My digestive issues had been a problem for a few years by this point, and I had raised the issue with my GP more than once. Each time, I was assured there wasn’t a serious problem and I had nothing to worry about. I probably could have pressed the issue, but I didn’t. Instead, I found a naturopathic physician who listened to me, took the time to care, and helped me craft a plan of action that would address my issues and get my system (and my life) back on track. Within about two weeks, I started to see results simply from changing my eating habits and taking a herbal supplement. I also discovered I had an underperforming thyroid that was majorly slowing down my metabolism.
Seeing a naturopath cost money I didn’t really have (at least $100 per visit), but as far as I’m concerned, you can’t put a price on your health. If you have extended benefits, check to see if your plan has naturopathic medical coverage. Mine covered a portion of it, so I wasn’t on the hook for 100% of the cost.
2. Journal your food and your feelings.
This one was a huge help for me. It’s obviously difficult for a medical professional to diagnose any issues without a history, so I started to note what I was eating and how I felt in the hours afterwards. Unsurprisingly, I was able to pinpoint the two biggest culprits from this exercise: gluten and dairy. It was during this time that I asked my naturopath if I could do a cleanse to reset my gut and monitor whether eradicating these foods 100% would make a major difference. She created a custom program for me, which consisted of two smoothies a day for breakfast and lunch, and then a really clean dinner consisting of lean protein and vegetables, plus a couple of herbal supplements. No dairy, no gluten, no sugar (including fruit), no booze, no fun – right? It was super, super hard but I was still allowed one cup of coffee a day to keep my sanity, and by the end of the first week I felt SO good that I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to try a cleanse. It also confirmed my suspicions that I had to break up with gluten and dairy.
3. Be ready to make significant changes to your eating habits.
This carb junkie was not psyched about ending things with gluten in particular. I’ve definitely learned my limits, and I need to be very very careful. I typically only eat gluten-free pasta and bread, and I avoid dairy as much as possible. One of the biggest culprits of my digestive distress was my daily latte – I thought I was making the right choice, eschewing GM soy drink for milk, and in fact, it was making me sick. I’ve since switched to almond milk and that has absolutely changed my life. I miss the occasional ice cream, and I still sneak a piece of cheese here and there, but drinking almond milk in my latte and switching to goat cheeses (which are easier on your tummy) has been a game-changer for me.
4. Find an eating solution that suits your schedule.
In order to stick to my resolve, I knew I would have to plan ahead and start cooking way more at home. But working 50+ hour workweeks didn’t really leave a lot of time to meal plan, and I wasn’t willing to give up my Sundays to cook and prepare all of our food for the week. That’s when I started using Vital Supply Co. A Vancouver-based meal preparation company, Vital cooks up dairy- and gluten-free meals using local, ethically sourced ingredients and innovative cooking methods to seal in flavour and texture. I order from their rotating menu twice per week, and they deliver delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners like Butternut Squash + Chorizo Hash and Cashew Chicken Curry that I can just pop into the microwave or oven. The cost is comparable to weekly grocery shopping, but I don’t have to do any prep, cooking, or clean-up – plus the food is totally delicious.
5. Have a back-up plan to resist temptation.
I still have days where I’ve forgotten my lunch at home, or I want something that’s on the ‘no-no list.’ My back-up plan for these days is simple: I opt for a smoothie or a couple of fresh-pressed juices. Here in Vancouver, there’s a smoothie bar or a juicery on pretty much every street corner, so we have tons of options when I’m in a pinch. The bonus that comes with a smoothie or a juice is the sweetness from the fruit – it feels like a treat, even though I’m doing something good for myself!