The LAST thing I ever expected in life was to become vegan, raw vegan or fruitarian at age 31. I grew up in central London where vegans were strange creatures who ate bird food and fruitarians were about as out there it gets. Creepy.
I grew up in the 1980’s with two parents who wanted the best for me. Candy was OK occasionally but absolutely no fast food. Lots of meat, potatoes, veggies and organic dairy. I loved fruit. I adored food and drank as much milk as I could to grow strong bones. I always wanted to be active, playing soccer, hockey, climbing trees or riding my bike, the typical tomboy.
As long as I could remember, I haven’t felt good. My mother realized at age 6 that my myopia had left me near blind so I got giant plastic glasses which didn’t help with the chronic migraines I was experiencing. After being prescribed horse tranquilizers by my doctor, I settled with the pain and became more concerned with the fact I was tired a lot. My grandmother gave me hell for staggering downstairs at 8am to a breakfast of rolls and butter. The reality was I’d wanted to get up at 6 and make a fort in the woods without being bothered by her but I couldn’t wake up. And sometimes when I did I had depression, even as a kid.
Despite numerous doctor visits, things only got worse. I played soccer and hockey in high school with blinding knee pain. By now I was just used to pushing through stuff so I just kept going until I was 16 and started coaching instead. I was tired with mind fog and lightheadedness. Frustrated, I turned to coffee to get through a job at 16 managing a coffee place during high school and developed anxiety. The super school nurse suggested a nice glass of wine to take the edge off. So I got through my days with coffee and alcohol. It was a necessity and no regrets. Concentrating on school was impossible and it took me 4 years to complete a 3 year degree. So tedious. And I didn’t feel good.
By my 20’s I had seen a ton of doctors. Not one could offer any explanation other than Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and depression. But my life was decent, I wanted to be happy! Instead, I now started getting sick all the time. I probably have the world record for Strep Throat. Working in the food service industry, you aren’t allowed sick days – they always just assume you are hungover. So I would go to the ER at midnight after work, wait 5 hours to tell them I had strep, then be told I had strep and just try and get through it. So many antibiotics. I liked working on my feet, but a 6 month attempt at dog grooming at 29 lead to massive allergy attacks, mystery rashes and I was now drinking 2 gallons of ice tea a day to stay awake and falling asleep 30 minutes after I got home. Forget the gym, I was barely holding down my job. My own dogs just stared at me pitifully. Finally my boss suggested I needed some time off to figure things out. Which is when I went back to the medical doctors.
How I felt: 1983-2014
Having never really felt great, I have always been one just to ignore health problems. But I know when I am defeated and that came the winter of 2012 when I could barely do anything. I went to a new doctor and invested thousands of dollars in blood tests. I needed to get better to be able to work, let alone enjoy my life. Finally, I had some labels to define what I was feeling. Epstein Barr. Lyme Disease. Autoimmune markers. Precancerous cells. PVC arrythmia. ADHD, depression, anxiety, OCD, dangerous cortisone levels, prediabetes. A gastero suggested probably celiac disease. Grains blow me up so it’s entirely possible all of this came from that. I was so addicted to bread but it’s called allergy addiction syndrome… endorphins from the immune response and gut damage from a problem food actually create a high.
I agreed to three months of Doxycycline to treat Lyme disease which we felt could have been underlying many of the other issues. After this time, I was devastated to feel much worse. A few weeks after this course of Doxy my autoimmune problems skyrocketed. I had a massive rash on my face. My skin hurt so bad if the sun touched it, let alone my bed sheets. My joints were so swollen I couldn’t walk. A sympathy job someone gave me was impossible because I had fevers every other day. I was 100% unable to work and medical bills were piling up all around me. Doctors don’t like being told that they made you sicker and mine told me to find a rheumatologist. Only problem was my expensive health plan refused to cover any more care. The nice lady at Horizon explained (in May) that I could either pay out of pocket (which is a rip off – everything is 100k) or try and stay alive until January. I chose plan B.
Having tried vegan, Fish Paleo and gluten free diets, I was aware that diet can manage health conditions. I figured if I could just get the inflammation down long enough I could make it until January without spending any more out of pocket (really… socialized health care is so not a bad thing) so I started digging furiously on Google.
I scoured the internet for natural healing stories and found out about Gerson, raw foods and even Venus Williams who is in remission from Sjogrens thanks to raw foods. I thought raw veganism was creepy but Venus Williams seemed OK. I dusted off Dr Fuhrman’s Eat To Live and Doug Graham’s 80/10/10 along with a Paleo book I picked up about grains. Paleo wasn’t it for me, but I had several key suspects in the what needs to come out of the diet trial. Grains, nightshade vegetables (after stuffed bell peppers, I woke up with my eyes swollen shut), sugar and legumes were suspicious.
I decided to start an epic elimination diet. I actually did it twice to be sure I wasn’t cutting out anything beneficial for no reason. 3 days juice. So far so good. Fruits, one by one. One a day. So far so good. Steamed vegetables, OK. Lettuce, good. First suspect was potatoes. I used to get stabbing pains from the inside and tingling all over my skin with uncomfortable twitching. Fibromyalgia which I now know is linked to nightshade vegetables. After a few weeks without potatoes, the results were terrifying. A massive flare. Tomatoes gave me a red rash all over my face. Ironically now I can have them but I certainly could not at first. By the time I got to grains and legumes I was sick and swollen again. I knew what I needed to do. I had been clinging to my gluten free breads and mashed potatoes like they were Beggin Strips. I was sneaking potato chips if they were organic and vegan. I was enjoying veggie burgers and Daiya cheese. It all HAD to go, ASAP. I had tried the juice fast from Fat Sick and Nearly Dead and it worked great until I remembered I liked food too much. But what if I ate it instead?
I was too afraid to follow 80/10/10 off the bat because I was worried about candida. It was December and cold. I figured that cooked and raw vegetables could have no difference. So I started with raw fruits and veggies all day, and a cooked squashy meal or soup from Eat To Live at night. I didn’t need to be a creepy fruitarian or limit mysself. I would eat good for a while and then go back to eating what I wanted. Only fruits and vegetables, nothing else other than vitamins, l-glutamine and a quality probiotic. I played around with a few herbs that treat Lyme but ended up dumping them after a few weeks. No oils, no fats and at first no nuts and seeds or even avocado because they used to flare me. I added them back after a few months, along with chickpeas.
From reading Eat To Live and Super Immunity from Dr Furhman I also understood why processed foods are toxic on the body. The first month was sheer hell. I shit you not. I was barely able to handle Candy Crush. It was sheer faith, lack of medical coverage and desperation that got me though it. I love sports. Sitting still and being sick was like death so I had to fix it, somehow. As motivation I applied to grad school and booked a trip to Hawaii at the 6 week mark of my detox. I had to stick with it or else. Towards the end of a month the fog lifted and I started to feel really good. Better than I had in years. It was euphoric, crazy, like waking up from a terrible nightmare. I made it to Hawaii and for the first time ever, I dared to eat fruit all day. It felt amazing! With the help of friends who had to carry my pack, I enjoyed my first hike since getting really sick.I slept on the beach as much as I needed to and felt positive about the future.
By March, I found a great new doctor. No immune markers in my blood and best of all my precancerous cells were gone! Blood looked fine despite the amount of fruit I was now eating and my overall health was good. I met Dr Fuhrman at a talk at Whole Foods and thanked him for saving my life. He did. Even though I eat raw now, I would recommend his diet to anyone and I learned so much through him about the importance of greens and vegetables.
Coming home, I started grad school which was very scary. I noticed immediately that my mental clarity was in a place it had never been before. I wouldn’t say I was fully healed, but I had certainly never felt this good. For the first time in my life I could focus and listen in classes. I could concentrate and get work done. The crux was when my allergies kicked in. It started before anything even bloomed and by the time New Jersey was dusted with blossoms I was locked in my house on heavy prescription medicine. I was back to sleeping all day.
The only place left to go was the 80/10/10 diet. Having already changed my diet to something socially weird, I was leery about going further but had no choice. I added in as many green juices and green smoothies as I could and went for it. Well, after a few days I felt so good I didn’t care what anyone thought. Remember how active I was as a kid? Lifelong depression vanished. Within a few weeks, I had so much energy I was back at the gym. I surfed 7 hours without stopping. I went biking, hiking and moved 2 years worth of leaves and brush out of my yard. I was in the water every day. The sun barely burned me. I drank my greens religiously and stockpiled watermelons. I had no blood sugar issues as long as I kept my fat low. I noticed fatty things from the raw vegan cafe would make me feel bad, quickly. To my surprise, I dropped 40lbs within the first few months raw. I am now back in the jeans I had in high school.
I’ve been eating mostly raw since June 2014 and it’s amazing. I no longer think that it’s creepy or an eating disorder, it is purely misunderstood. I met Abbey Lee online and we set up a group on Facebook called Vegan Fruitarians for people like us – who never thought they would free themselves of chronic illness through diet. Our goal is to teach people how to do it safely and keep fun, normal lives. I aim to stay 100% raw because it feels amazing. Occasionally I’ll have a cooked vegan meal or a glass of wine and it feels pretty blah compared to how I am used to feeling, which is energetic and happy. So not worth it, but the experimentation is fun. Unfortunately my goal of going back to eating what I want just seems to flare the arthritis I lived with for so long so I really think that this has been a lifeline for me. Many people never get better and live forever with chronic illness so I consider myself lucky, not deprived. Maybe this is a get out of jail free card or maybe I have so much internal damage from grains it’s the only way around it. All I know is few people feel this good. Most days I just chill with my smoothies. I don’t mind drinking water in bars. I love to dance and play in a band too. Pond hockey. Rollerblading. This winter I surfed 8 foot waves at Hanalei bay from sunrise to sunset. Extremely physically demanding. So many great things now that I’m feeling better.
My advice to anyone considering this is give it a shot. Worst thing that happens is it doesn’t work and you go back to how you were eating. Unhealthy food isn’t going anywhere. Eat more fruits and vegetables and try adding green smoothies. You can feel better just by swapping out breakfast for smoothies. Eat less processed food. Cut back on meat. Get rid of dairy and gluten. Find your balance. Find what you’re willing to eat compared with the energy and vitality it gives you. Fruit and vegetable based diets don’t need to be creepy, extremist or weird. You can be sexy, normal and vibrant and live a totally normal life! I have not sold off all my possessions to go live in the jungle. I have an active social life and work in a restaurant while working on my side businesses. I don’t feel deprived as from where I am standing most people by age 50 are sick with something. What if we don’t have to be? What if we don’t all need to get cancer and take antidepressants? It’s just time for us all to realize that diet directly affects health and as descendants of primates, we need our fruits and greens!
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