Thursday, May 21, 2015

My Battle with Orthorexia: Finding Peace with Food, Eating Intuitively and the Truth about Bananas

"Your the healthiest sick person that I know."

This was said to me earlier this year by a very dear friend of mine. And, he was right. For the last 5 years I have been doing everything I can to regain my health after what I'll refer to as a "state of emotional and physical trauma" in which I've discussed in my previous posts on Orthorexia. There have been times that I felt that I was regaining my health, gaining strength, and becoming the healthy vibrant and radiant child of love that I am. Up until now, these times have been short lived only to come tumbling down along with feeling sick, tired and hopeless once again. All the while, trying to eat my way to better health, keep a smile on my face and my spirits high.

If you've been following me or have read past posts, you know that I have Orthorexia. This has been a very complex battle for me as I do believe whole heartily that food can either support your body in healing or inhibit healing and lead to illness and disease.

Years ago, I read on Grace Van Berkum’s 'About Me' page: 
"I haven’t always been healthy.  I have struggled with eating disorders, addictive behaviour, emotional pain, and physical pain.  I have explored many roads in an effort to heal my body and my heart.  It hasn’t been easy.  But where I find myself now is the happiest and healthiest place I have been in my entire life.  I am empowered, I am more free to express myself, and I know with utmost certainty that I am doing what I was put on this Earth to do.  Every day I continue to strive towards health and peace, while enjoying the journey the best way I know how, and trying to teach people what I have learned along the way.  Being healthy is fun and life has never been more enjoyable!  When you feel good and look good, you radiate good energy, and see life with different eyes.  The more self-aware I become, the better life gets." -Grace Van Berkum  
I thought, how can a way of eating that is seemingly so restrictive (Raw Vegan) – and extreme (eliminating all animal protein?!? NOTHING cooked?!?), help me overcome my eating disorder and find peace with food? How could I ever live this way and feel satisfied…whole… healthy? But I desperately wanted this peace in my life. I wanted to feel this health and vitality that Grace seemed to radiate (and still does). I wanted to have healthy foods in my life and feel well while eating them. And, I didn't want to give up on my belief that given the proper tools (nutrients) my body could heal on a mental, physical, and spiritual level. 

Grace Van Berkum, R.H.N., C.P.T.   Gracious Living
Grace Van Berkum, R.H.N., C.P.T., of Gracious Living is a well-known and respected contributor and ambassador in the health and wellness community. She is a beautiful soul with a zest for life and profound passion for health and helping others. You can see why I am a Grace Van Berkum fan. I have been ‘following’ Grace for many years and have had the opportunity to speak with her on several occasions-  but we have yet to meet in person. One day! Perhaps I will find myself at the place where she calls home in Nicaragua as a student in one of her retreats. <3 
"I am passionate about cultivating inner peace, increasing vitality, preventing disease, and living the life of your dreams through conscious eating, exercise, yoga, and connecting to nature. I am a girl working on becoming whole and discovering my truth while following the sun,  and guiding people towards their own wholeness and greatness along the way." -Grace Van Berkum  
I became increasingly curious about the lifestyle. Over the years the thought of eating animal protein became less and less appealing. Cooked foods and oils - yes even the magical coconut oil, began to make me feel bloated and lethargic. I was depressed and confused - having thought that I was doing everything right. Avoiding processed/packaged foods, moderate amounts of healthy fats, proteins and limiting carbohydrates and sugar. 

Along with my pre-existing condition with Systemic Candida (that come to find out most Western Doctor's do not believe exists), I started to develop a whole host of other health issues that effected my daily life. These included: 
  • Reoccurring Vaginal Yeast Infections 
  • Reoccurring Bacterial Vaginitis 
  • Kidney Stones
  • Puffy face
  • Swollen and sore eyes
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Headaches
  • Increased food allergies
  • Adult Acne 
  • Leaky gut 
  • Auto-immune type 'issues' such as joint pain 
  • Depression
Systemic Candida is a complex issue where the balance of candida albicans (found naturally in the human body) is off and the candida albicans "bloom" resulting in anywhere from annoying, to disastrous, and sometimes life threatening circumstances depending on the severity.

Some things that can set off candida albicans:
  • Antibiotic use (killing off all good bacteria and disturbing the gut flora balance) 
  • Chronic Stress 
  • Processed foods 
  • Refined sugars (NOT natural sugars found in fruit this is common and devastating misconception)
  • Weak/compromised immunity 
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Environmental molds
Things like vaginal yeast infections, cystic acne, nail fungus, and oral thrush are often only symptoms of a deeper candida problem and likely mean that there is a problem in the gut. When this is the case, it is highly likely that the person would experience other symptoms (such as the ones I had listed above).

I am not going to attempt to further delve into the topic as I am not trained to speak in depth about such topics but that is a little glimpse into the great big bad land of Candida Albicans.

There were countless paths that I took before I finally made the full transition to Raw Vegan. All the while, working to overcome my battle with Orthorexia. This was not an easy journey. It wasn't until I took a step back, surrendered, and gave myself the space and time to do proper research that I was able to make the transition peacefully and intuitively

*Note: there are MANY different variations of Raw Veganism. I may reference Grace Van Berkum or others that live a Raw Vegan lifestyle but I do not know the specifics of their diet. The Raw Vegan I will discuss in detail is specific to my own diet and life. 

While I believe that Raw Vegan is the most optimal diet for human consumption, it isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t something that someone should jump into without doing research, seeking support and preparing themselves mentally – any transition, especially with food, need to be come from a place of peace.  Not fear. This was my critical error in fall of 2014.

I was coming from a place of desperation. My symptoms were off the charts - causing me pain emotionally and physically. I was uncomfortable and unhappy. At the time, I was not eating animal protein because it just did not appeal to me anymore and I was inching my way toward raw but I feared the sugars in fruit based on years of being misinformed by 'candida diet' experts. My diet was vegan but high fat (nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut and olive oil) and still low carb. While I felt better without animal protein, I was suffering.

Though I feared the fruit, there was something inside of me that whispered "You need the fruit, you need the carbs. You need high nutrient enzyme rich foods! These hard to digest nuts are destroying your gut!" I knew that I had to listen. I had tried everything else. But, I was scared. I joined support groups. I researched fervently in the evenings after work. I dove into 'healing diets' head first and took herbs to help 'detox.'

I discovered Dr. Morse and Dr. Douglas Graham, Founder of Food and Sport and author of the 80/10/10 book; both of whom are active Low Fat Raw Vegan (High Carb/fruit) advocates. Though they suggest different approaches to the lifestyle.

I felt 100% dreadful. My adrenals and organs were taxed. What I came to realize, is that I was I was following OTHER peoples paths. Not my own. I was not listening to my body. I was not being gentle with myself. I was not allowing my body to communicate with me. Although I researched, I got caught up in specifics and prescriptive 'protocols.' In hindsight, I made a lot of critical mistakes like combining high carb/fruit with cooked high fat (vegan) meals and gourmet raw foods like things with coconut oil, cashew butter, avocado and other high fat items. I am not saying that these items are 'bad' but combined with a high fruit diet - it's a recipe for disaster that only feeds candida.

Over the holiday in 2014, I returned to meat while visiting family. My energy was  low from the improper food combining and high amounts of hard to digest nuts and seeds that were triggering inflammation, food sensitivities, bloating, and weight gain. Eating meat and going back to a more 'Paleo' way of eating seemed to be the only option. Especially given the food allergies that I have (grains, dairy, yeast, soy, sulfites etc). This was a very difficult decision for me - I felt as though I had no other choice. I felt sick inside and because of the imbalance in my gut, and candida flared, my cravings were out of control. I wanted brownies, salty chips, pork, pancakes, and wine. I had all of those things. My body reacted and then some. The brain fog was some of the worst that I had ever experienced - it was as if I was living inside of a cloud.

Returning to animal protein/fats and higher sodium made me feel even worse than I was before. I was tired, my yeast and Bacterial Vaginitis (BV) was in a constant state of flare, I was constantly on the verge of tears, my face and eyes were swollen and puffy and the kidney stones returned with vengeance.

Although this was an incredibly trying part of my life, it was also vitally eye-opening and it was a forcing function for me to check-in with myself on my Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, and compulsive behaviors. It was clear to me that I had fallen back into old patterns of punishing myself and my body and doing everything that I can do be 'clean' and 'pure.' My motivation was coming from a place of desperation and fear rather than calm with an intention of being healthy and balanced.

I took a long step back and gave myself the space and time to get myself educated. I knew that the animal protein, fats and sodium were a problem. I knew that my body needed more fruit and vegetables (less acids and far more alkaline). These were the things that I knew. But I still wasn't sure how to get from A to B. I removed myself from all online food groups/forums and instead read books and contacted trusted advisers and wellness coaches in the Raw Vegan community.

During this time, I slowly took animal protein, grains, legumes and nuts back out of my diet and replaced them with fruits and vegetables. I started what I called 'A True Food Journal.' I wrote in my journal about how foods made me feel physically and emotionally and had a detailed list of the foods that truly effected my body.  It was a slow process but this time I didn't beat myself up. I didn't get angry with myself for trying something that didn't work. I practiced self-love and care, did affirmations, drank liters of lemon water and did copious amounts of yoga.

My affirmation board in my old apartment 
Although I wasn't where I wanted to be yet, I respected that I was on a journey - trusting the process and trusting that my body would tell me what it needed.

Slowly, I began to feel a calm that I had never known before.

It didn't take much effort after that work to make the transition to High Fruit (Carb) Raw Vegan (Low Fat). I transitioned easily, without reading articles online or getting involved with online forums/groups. In retrospect, my transition was actually unplanned. Unlike previous times, were I would aggressively put myself on a hard date and throw away all of my food, buy new foods/supplements and punish myself for weeks into some wildly uncomfortable detox diet.

I began to eat similar to Dr. Graham's 80/10/10 without even trying. Interestingly, I had tried last year and mentioned this in my last post on Orthorexia. In actuality, I wasn't properly preparing my foods (like eating bananas that were not ripe) and combining the method with high fat cooked foods which led to a flare in my symptoms. I thought the theory had failed me.

Seemingly overnight, after going HFRV, I saw the light - no FELT the light. I felt light! I felt vibrant. I felt energized! Was it possible that I could EAT my way to wellness and recovery? No restrictions? No dieting? Over 2,000 calories a day of raw whole foods? Was I dreaming?!?

My kitchen table <3
From the outside, it may look as though the way that I eat now is the most extreme, or to someone who doesn’t have all of the facts and information, the most unhealthy. or that I have fallen off of a fruit tree and deep into ED, but it's the exact opposite. Yet, here I am, the healthiest that I have been in my adult life, and on any given day, bouncing off the walls with energy. I feel myself again. I have more clarity and motivation. I feel like I am finally comfortable in my body. And with my body. My strength and vitality increases everyday, the dark circles around my eyes has improved, I am happy and cheery pretty much all of the time. My anxiety and depression has pretty much vanished. 

During this time, I have moved across states, been diagnosed with Lyme from being bit by tick (more on that in a future post), and began working a new job (to support me while I continue to build my dream). It doesn't take a psychologist to know, that's a lot of physical and emotional stress - but, I truly believe that this way of eating has kept me feeling amazing on even my worst days with Lyme and most exhausting days moving and traveling.

I really dislike labels, but I suppose the way that I eat is "High Fruit/Carb Raw Vegan" or simply, "Fruititarian." Here is a Fruititarian Food Pyramid that gives a nice overview.

So, what do I eat as a Fruity Lover?

I eat mainly (RIPE) fruit all day long in large quantities with added greens ( I have been loving spinach and romaine lately) either throughout the day or a LARGE vegetable salad at night. I eat A LOT of (spotty!) bananas. Sometimes up to 20 a day. I also include a small amount of plant-based fats/proteins such as hemp and chia seeds, sprouted/raw nuts like cashews or some avocado.

I drink LARGE smoothies (yes sometimes straight out of the blender!) with greens and several spotty bananas blended with fresh herbs like basil or mint. I do not eat anything with animal protein, cooked, or with oils. I eat A LOT. Sometimes over 2,500 calories in one day depending on what I am doing and they only reason that I know this is because someone wanted me to get on one of those fitness apps because they were curious what I eat. I do not typically keep track of calories - it was slightly humorous to see the amount LOL. I do not take any medications. I take a daily probiotic (VSL #3) and supplement vitamin D3 in liquid form.

It is unknown to me if this is how I will eat for the rest of my life. But, I do know that it works for me right now.

Improvements since High Fruit Raw Vegan: 
  • Clear skin (acne basically vanished) 
  • Whites in my eyes more clear (they were red/bloodshot and sometimes yellowish prior) 
  • Swelling in face/eyes has disappeared
  • Hair is softer and growing
  • Nails are growing and are not thin or brittle 
  • No Bacterial Vaginitis 
  • No Yeast Infections (except for flare on the antibiotics from Lyme) 
  • No kidney stones (except for a breakdown when I was going to town on high amounts of watermelon for a few days this was actually a good thing!) 
  • No more intense cravings (often followed by a binge) 
  • Little to no bloating in my tummy 
  • Increased energy and strength 
  • Improved mood 
  • Improved relationship with food 
  • Hunger is more intuitive 
  • Blood sugar has stabilized

I have energy all day long and my anxiety around eating has vanished. I feel good before I eat, during and after I eat. I am continuously learning and have found a group of amazing people that are finding similar results with this way of eating. Many have similar stories as mine. Feeling of unwell, systemic candida that flares with high fat/protein and mold/fungus and auto-immune type symptoms with no diagnosis. And many that have had Lyme, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia etc. all feeling amazing from HFRV - or well on their way. 

I don't have all the answers. I am not a doctor nor a scientist. I can't explain to you why exactly this works - or works for me. All I know, is that it does.

Is this way of eating the end-all-be-all? I don't know. But I trust that I will evolve and adapt to whatever my body needs. 

My heart is filled with gratitude for the great teachers and guides that I have in my life including Grace Van Berkum (her book '30 Days, 30 Ways to Gracious Living' coming soon!), Stacy Stowers, author of Eat Raw, Not Cooked, Ian Michael Meyers of IM Wellness, and Erin Luyendyk of The Nutritionista to name a few... Nameste my dear friends. 

It's all a journey my dear ones and we cannot travel through it alone.




  1. What a great story of self healing and empowerment. You are a healing warrior. Thanks for inspiring me today!

    1. Oh Elisabeth, thank you dear one - right back at you! xo

  2. Well done Ashley you look amazing and very beautiful. I know how having candida feels and it is very bad. Take care.


    1. Thank you Jay, I appreciate your kind words and thoughts very much.