Part one in a three-part series by Victoria Diaz, HHC, AADP, BA and Founder, Life Balance Health Coaching
In May 2001, due to major life-changing experiences, I found myself the unhealthiest I had ever been in my life. Surgeries, chronic pain, stress, medications, and lack of sleep had me in a downward health spiral. There finally came a time when my health and lifestyle “status quo” was no longer acceptable. I desperately needed to find some alternative treatments. Over the next 10 years my life would shift toward a more natural, holistic, healthy lifestyle and eventually lead me to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a certified health counselor.
My journey began by going to wellness workshops, holistic seminars, and of course, my second home, Barnes & Noble. I bought and read every book I could get my hands on, from acupressure to aromatherapy, law of attraction to spiritual meditation, how grains can contribute to inflammatory pain, how food additives and artificial sweeteners can keep you fat, how raw foods and juicing can reduce stress and pain, and how your positive thoughts and powerful subconscious mind can help heal you.
Although all these were different disciplines, I realized they had a common theme of natural health and well-being. A positive lifestyle and whole foods can be your medicine cabinet back to wellness. I decided to combine various ideas based on “food is your medicine”.
I decided on a few simple things to try first: I would drink more water, reduce my caffeine intake, eliminate refined white sugar and flour products, eliminate highly processed foods, incorporate only whole grains and sprouted grain breads or pasta, incorporate whole fruits and vegetables, and eliminate artificial sweeteners. As I look back now this list may have been a bit over zealous, but I was on a mission! I cleaned out my pantry and refrigerator.
The first week: I’ll admit I went a bit crazy looking for fast, easy things to eat when I was tired and didn’t feel like cooking. I felt more stressed and irritable, and I had a massive headache. When I was watching TV, my mouth seemed to be missing the crunch factor of a snack. At the time it did not occur to me that my body was detoxing and withdrawing from all the processed foods.
The second week: I knew I had to “crowd out” my cravings so I decided to get organized about it. To remind myself to drink more water I would put four 20 oz. bottles on my kitchen counter every morning. This didn’t work at first because I was addicted to putting Splenda and lemon or lime in them. Switching over to NuStevia helped to eventually start drinking my water pure. I was hooked on granola bars (oh no, processed food category) so I made sure I had healthy, crunchy snacks available at home, in my handbag and gym bag, and in my car (dehydrated kale chips or green beans, pumpkin seeds, almonds, or cashews). I made sure I bought plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. This did not work that well at first because a lot of vegetables were going to waste (I was eating more salads but forgetting to eat the rest of the vegetables I bought). To solve the vegetable issue, I took my juicer out, placed it on the kitchen counter, and juiced my vegetables instead.
The third week: I began to notice that the water bottles were emptying and crowding out the caffeine. Instead of my usual 2-4 cups of coffee and/or tea I was now down to one either first thing in the morning or one in the early evening. Eliminating refined sugar, flour, and processed foods had me cooking more and eating out only on special occasions or when visiting friends. I started to incorporate “sweet vegetables” to help crowd out my lingering stress/sugar cravings. Instead of eating packaged sweets or cakes I tried eating beets, carrots, cabbage, and sweet potatoes. Eventually, I noticed that when I was stressed out I wasn’t always craving a piece of cake but rather looking for my beets! Crazy huh?!
Honestly, over the past 10 years I have had my ups and downs. These changes took time and effort. I continue to keep building upon everything I’ve learned. Learning how to be mindful of healthy food choices and not obsessing over counting calories or what the bathroom scale says has made me a much more relaxed person. I can honestly say making simple step-by-step healthy choices has brought me back to health. I feel more able to handle life and its daily stress. I feel I have more clarity in my thoughts and am able to focus better. I have less fatigue.
There still things I want to change and work on, absolutely, but I know like any strong foundation, you build it one brick at a time.