My Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Sugar-Free Vegan Lifestyle

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The numbers on the scale continued to rise. I was bewildered and depressed knowing that my diet hadn’t changed at all. As my clothes grew tighter and my stomach more bloated, I realized that my assumptions had been wrong. Cancer treatment was not a sure way to lose weight, and in fact, many women actually gain weight during chemotherapy. I gained thirty pounds within the first six months of treatment.

I’ll never forget my very first chemo. A nutritionist came in to talk to me about diet and nutrition. He said that I would lose my appetite and that I needed to focus on consuming more calories than I was used to, to ensure that my body remained strong. He said, “If you want chocolate, eat chocolate. When you’re hungry, eat whatever sounds good.” And while this may be sound advice for those who truly do lose their appetites, for me, it was neither helpful nor beneficial to my fight against cancer.

The truth is, there are more opinions about the cause of cancer than I even care to address. Will being in the sun increase your chance of getting cancer? Yes. Will consuming copious amounts of sugar fuel the disease? I’m sure. Will eating red meat propel the growth of cancer cells? Maybe. Are there ways we can reduce our exposure and risk of getting cancer? More than likely. Do high-fiber, cruciferous, plant-based diets combat malignancies? Probably. There are books, websites, and plentiful resources that completely conflict with each other. How do we even begin to decide what is right? My answer? Do you what you feel is best for you. Read those books, watch those documentaries, listen to those professionals, and scour the resources, but always listen to your body and trust your gut.

Beyond the rise of the numbers on the scale, during my fights against cancer and years later, I noticed an overall decline in my health and wellness. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery recovery is taxing on one’s body, but even after they were completed, I felt lethargic. For months I assumed it was my body trying to heal from the amount of treatment I had received. I figured that the reason my body was not bouncing back as expected was due to the fact that I was experiencing menopause as a young adult. I had just fought cancer four times in three years and received a slew of treatments and several surgeries, so of course my body was tired! While I believe that is true, I also know that my body was craving good nutrition. The tank of this engine was dangerously low and it needed to be refueled.

I grew up with a southern cookin’ mama. Casseroles, fixins’, crockpot dishes, pasta, rolls, cheese, and butter. All the food that metaphorically wraps you in a nice, warm blanket and whispers in a southern drawl, “Sweet darlin’, you’ll be alright.” It wasn’t until my early twenties when I realized that though my heart loved that food, my body did not. I have been lactose intolerant since birth. My mom had to quickly eliminate all dairy from her diet because of my colic. I have vivid memories of eating ice cream as a toddler and breaking out in violent hives. I quickly learned to steer clear of milk, but continued to eat cheese, yogurt, and other processed dairy foods.

I have never been someone who loves meat. If you are like my husband, a self-proclaimed meataholic, your jaw probably dropped at that statement. Though I grew up with barbecue meat, grilled meat, and deli meat, it never appealed to me. In fact, I’ve always loathed steak. So, at 20 years old, I decided to radically change my diet. I not only stopped consuming meat, but also rejected all animal products, becoming completely vegan. Yet one year in, at dinner with my boyfriend (now husband), I caved. I just needed that sour cream! Processed dairy continued to pull at my heart strings, but I stayed committed to being a vegetarian (no meat, but some animal products).

After cancer, no amount of exercise was helping. I’d wake up early every morning to get a hard workout in, but the tired, bloated, and heavy feelings remained. I have always enjoyed juicing, so I would go on strict juice fasts to see how my body would react. I would lose up to ten pounds in one week and feel great, but as soon as I went back to consuming my normal diet, my body would revolt. I grew weary in my search for health, and started to feel like this was the body and the energy level I needed to accept for myself.

Somewhere on my social media news feeds, I saw something that caught my eye. The Whole30. Several of my friends were posting how amazing their experiences were, so I quickly researched to find out more. I loved everything that I read, and especially loved that the goal behind the program was not to lose weight, but rather to “push the reset button with your health, habits, and relationship with food, and the downstream physical and psychological effects of the food choices you’ve been making.” Without going into a comprehensive description, because there are several resources that give in-depth explanations, the Whole30 is a 30-day elimination of “the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups.” No added sugar, no dairy, no gluten, no grains, no alcohol, no legumes, no processed foods. At this point you may be wondering what one can actually eat while on the Whole30. The answer? REAL FOOD.

I decided to try it, and even suckered my husband into joining me. After the thirty days, we both felt incredible. Our views of food radically transformed, our energy increased, our physical appearances changed, and we agreed that we felt the best we had in years. Though meat can be consumed on the Whole30, I chose to continue on with my decade-long decision to remain meatless. My body and mind felt so rejuvenated after the thirty days, that I decided to go forward with a vegan, primarily Whole30 lifestyle. Because the changes I experienced have been so dramatic, I cannot imagine ever returning to the gluten-filled, dairy-full, sugar-loaded way I ate before.

Am I so rigid in my nutrition that I don’t allow myself certain non-compliant foods every now and then? No! My husband makes an incredible vegan black bean (legume) quinoa (grain) dish, and you better believe that I practically lick my plate dry. What I’ve learned by eliminating inflammatory foods is that my body functions best with real, natural, unprocessed foods. I no longer crave nor want items rich in gluten, dairy, or sugar. I eat a diet abundant of fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts. And you know what? Never have I ever felt deprived. I am full, satisfied, in shape, and energized. And as a bonus, I’ve lost nearly all of the thirty pounds I gained during treatment.

Many of you have asked for my favorite recipe recommendations. To start, I highly recommend beginning the Whole30 and reading the resources of the program. There are several books, cookbooks, and websites dedicated to this lifestyle. Heck, go on Pinterest and search, “Whole30 recipes” and you’re sure to find no less than 900 options! For me, there aren’t many vegetables or fruits that I won’t eat, so my options are endless. Eliminating all gluten, dairy, sugar, and processed foods can be intimidating, but if you are committed, your life will be changed. And by the way, this is not a sponsored post. I simply believe that we are meant to eat clean, real food and I have found a program that believes the same.

I challenge you to start listening to the way your body and mind responds to what you are feeding it. If you are tired after consuming certain foods, your body is trying to tell you something. Listen to it.

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