How I turned crippling bowel disease into a plant strong empire
How I turned crippling bowel disease into a plant strong empire, and in the process found my way back to health and wellbeing. A guest post by strong and clever female entrepreneur and mumma Nicole O’Neil.
I was just 21 when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. A crippling bowel disease I had acquired through an intrinsically linked set of epidemiological circumstances that occurred throughout my life as a child. That, I would come to learn later.
I remember how sick I was, pumped with steroids and a slew of anti-inflammatories that would be my life for the next 6 months. As if I didn’t have enough to deal with, I drifted through University with a ‘moon face’ – a side effect from the steroids that often left me in tears and I wasn’t sure what I hated more; being publicly sick or the self-reproach, mingled with humiliation.
I’m a seventies child. I grew up on silver-top milk, processed cereals, packet food and copious amounts of meat and dairy products.
But that wasn’t the flick of the dominos for me, just the direction the dominos would go in.
I was just 3 years old when I contracted whooping cough, bursting both eardrums and causing glue-ear and grommets that would govern my life for the next 9 years. I was marched in and out of the ENT clinic so often, I was on first name terms with the specialists. I was also prescribed copious amounts of antibiotics to deal with ear infections, and surgery.
I couldn’t blame my parents for their significant lack of nutritional judgement. It’s just the way it was. You either survived the pathogenic onslaught, or you didn’t.
The first signs that my body was suffering from the inside out was when I developed acne as a teenager. Naturally, I was given Retinol A and prescribed the contraceptive pill as a course of action.
Absolutely no questions asked.
Suffering from a bowel disease was one thing. But suffering from a bowel disease during my pregnancy years was another. I was back up to a rattling 9 pills a day to control my symptoms which now included hair loss, chronic fatigue and anemia.
To make matters worse, following a colonoscopy procedure shortly after my third child was born, my specialist hit me with further bad news and changed my diagnosis from Ulcerative Colitis to Crohn’s Disease.
Ulcerative Colitis affects the large intestine only, whereby Crohns affects the entire GI tract. Prior to my pregnancies, I consciously avoided any information about my health, preferring denial as a means to cope.
But now I felt a great responsibility to owe it to myself and my children to find my way back to health.
I began reading books and researching whatever I could to fully understand Chronic Bowel Disease (CBD). I began correlating highly processed foods with my ‘flare-ups’, and began the Simple carbohydrate Diet (SCD) shortly after reading ‘Breaking the Vicious Cycle’ and ‘GAPS’ (Gut And Psychology Syndrome).
I did experience reduced symptoms, but I was never completely free of my medications, however, for the first time, I was taking charge of my health and that felt really good.
It’s been a little over 3 years now since I was first prompted by my very supportive husband to research the benefits of a whole food plant based diet. Together we started immersing ourselves in documentaries, interviews and podcasts about the benefits of living a whole food, plant based life and the countless ways that animal agriculture is not only inhumane and damaging to the planet, but a fundamental cause of many chronic diseases we face today.
After watching Fork Over Knives, What The Health, The C Word, The Need To Grow and Plant Pure Nation, and others, my husband and I were pretty swift to clear our cupboards out of processed packet food, ditching dairy, meat, eggs and heavily processed sauces and replacing them with fresh or dried whole foods.
This switch didn’t happen overnight, but it certainly happened fast enough to keep the devil on my shoulder quiet.
In as little as 3 months, I grew stronger, I came off my meds entirely and my energy levels shot up. I started to feel the best I’d ever felt in years. I began my journey back to health and found the beauty in other lifestyle changes too such as yoga and meditation. I opened my world to the idea that true health was not bound by physiological adjustments but rather a lifestyle commitment to embody vitality through mind, body and spirit.
My recovery is what motivated me to advance my own understanding of nutritional health and wellbeing, spending most of my free time researching as much as I could about the positive effects of plant based nutrition.
I continue to be impressed that the more diseases we study, and the more underlying biological mechanisms we research, the more new reasons there are to explain why simple lifestyle changes are so powerful and transformative.
But let’s get one thing abundantly clear here.. my story led me to my intentions and not everyone’s story will do the same.
There’s no doubt that my life has irrevocably changed as a result of healing through a whole food plant based diet. But I’m not a purist. I still get knee-jerk rebellious tendencies to eat vegan junk food, and occasionally I will. It just doesn’t have the same appeal as it once did. It’s almost a dying habit and somehow, through practice, I have managed to drown out the sound through immutable intention.
I don’t practice yoga and meditation on a daily basis and I have days where I sit behind my computer and realise I haven’t got up for over 4 hours.
But I come from a place of honest intent with clear objectives to at least try.
And over the last 3 years I have got better at trying. My own actions in response to my health have altered my thoughts, my choices and my beliefs.
And through my actions, I have finally conquered disease. I have been symptom and medication free for over 3 years now and the freedom to live without disease has driven me to share my story with as many people as possible.
I, along with 3 others who share the same passion, vision and dream started a project 2 years ago called Plant Strong Living. We set out to inspire and motivate others to discover a deeper level of understanding of nutritional health and wellbeing.
We aim to cut through the vast amounts of confusion and help people achieve real results through cooking demos, seminars and courses.
Last month we launched a whole food plant based food box with delicious recipes, designed to teach people how to cook this way without struggling for ideas or know-how.
My health enables everything I do. It is the underpinning foundation on which I live my life. Without it, I have nothing.
I don’t take it for granted.
I have learnt that where my food comes from can impact not just my health but the world around me. I now know food matters.
So for those people who live with chronic disease, I want to show them too that it’s absolutely possible with time, kindness and patience to heal through a whole food, plant based lifestyle.
If I can do it, so can you.
This post was a guest post by Nicole O’Neill. Her views are her own opinion and are not intended as advice. Please, always consult your own physician or specialist for medical or nutritional advice.