My first of four autoimmune diagnoses came in 2007 after falling from a horse and breaking my leg in four places. I needed surgery and a few weeks later my foot and leg developed burning pain, extreme tenderness, swelling and blotchy, discolored skin. After consultations with two orthopedic surgeons, I was told that I had a complex regional pain syndrome, that I had been put on gabapentin and that I had been off work for six months. I needed a year of physiotherapy.
Experiencing Symptoms and Side Effects
In the years that followed, I gradually became more active, striving to be in top shape. Although I still needed Gabapentin to minimize my leg and foot pain, I exercised regularly and thought I had a healthy diet. At the end of 2010, I was affected by the H1N1 virus. I got over the worst in a few weeks, but for the rest of the winter I still felt bad: I was tired, I had trouble catching my breath during easy exercises, I often had unexplained body aches and I would regularly lose my voice for days. at a time.
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At the beginning of 2011, I felt extremely lethargic. After a blood test, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. This meant more medication, but my symptoms didn’t improve much and the following year I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus.
I took handfuls of prescriptions and rode a roller coaster of side effects and debilitating symptoms: joint pain, eye pain, rashes, frequent headaches, embarrassing brain fog, dizziness, nausea, respiratory infections and recurrent urinary and extreme fatigue. a lot of time I spent in bed. I kept trying to make the best of things, but my ten-year marital relationship was a train wreck, my career as a financial analyst was in jeopardy because I was so short of work and I was stressed by my future.
In 2014, a few months after my marital relationship ended, I was diagnosed with a mixed connective tissue disease. Four autoimmune diagnostics at 41 was not what I had imagined for my life.
Looking for lifestyle solutions
I repeatedly asked my doctor if I could do something different, maybe change what I ate, but he told me my diet had nothing to do with my health. When my cholesterol results were outside the healthy range, he said it was “due to lupus.” I wasn’t visibly overweight, so he wasn’t worried. (He said, “You’re thin, you’re fine.”) My treatment plan was to deal with each symptom as it presented itself, without the holistic perspective that our body parts and internal systems are connected.
I followed a balanced diet according to Canada’s official food guide, eating what I thought were healthy proportions of meat or seafood; dairy products, eggs or cheese; breads and other grains; and fruits and vegetables every day. I also ate sweet snacks and desserts, thinking it must be OK for me to do so, since I wasn’t obese. The number on the scale was my only guide for my food choices, and I told myself that if I gained weight I would go on a diet.
About a year and a half into a new relationship, my health was at rock bottom. I was in a lot of pain, missing work for weeks or months at a time. I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. My boyfriend, Mike, got some unexpected money, so we went on a two-week vacation to Nicaragua to try and have some fun.
A taste of better living
While we were in Nicaragua there was a day when my feet were so swollen I couldn’t walk, but the rest of the vacation was rejuvenating with minimal symptom flare-ups. Suddenly, I found hope. The Caribbean breezes were relaxing. The tasty traditional dishes – rice, beans, loads of fresh fruits and vegetables – were easy to taste. We still ate seafood and chicken, but a significant part of our diet was plant-based.
I started weaning myself off my prescriptions, even though I had no concrete plan to “replace” them. My rheumatologist helped me try this, but warned me that I would probably have worsening symptoms and would have to go back to full doses.
At the end of 2016, Mike and I returned to Nicaragua, this time to build a vacation home on an island off the coast. The longer we were there, the better I felt. By the time we returned to Canada in the summer of 2017, I had stopped all prescriptions and no longer needed daily naps. I felt more energized and clear-headed than I had in years. I linked my health improvements to the more plant-based, less processed diet I ate in Nicaragua. After making this health-nutrition connection and learning from the islanders about natural remedies for various ailments, I found myself increasingly interested in learning more about the power of plants and contributing factors to autoimmune diseases.
In 2019, Mike and I came across the Forks on knives documentary film. It was eye-opening and shocking, and suddenly my “accidental” health reversal made so much sense. From then on, we embarked on a whole-food, plant-based, oil-free lifestyle.
Today, I am still happily WFPB and have kept the majority of my autoimmune symptoms at bay. Although I was once told that I would need pills forever, I haven’t needed a prescription for almost five years. The lupus antibodies don’t even show up on my blood tests anymore, and my thyroid and cholesterol levels are normal. I still looked bloated, but no more. I am now an author and certified nutrition coach and body healing coach, also helping other autoimmune warriors improve their health.
Ready to start? To verify Meal Planner Forks, FOK’s easy weekly meal planning tool to keep you on a plant-based healthy path. To learn more about a whole plant-based diet, visit our herbal primer.
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