During college, I gained weight, felt tired all of the time, and didnt sleep well. But I certainly wasnt the only one of my friends to feel that way. (Thats what undergrads all about, right?)
Over the next few years, more symptoms-hot flashes, constipation, diarrhea, cramps with exercise, and breakouts-drove me to doctors’ offices looking for a solution. Eventually, a holistic physician suggested I try an elimination diet to see if any common food intolerances were contributing to my symptoms.
After months of experimenting, I found that cutting gluten and eating clean, whole foods really helped me manage my symptoms (which is often the case for people with Hashimoto’s). I had more energy, better digestion, and, according to my bloodwork, my thyroid was even functioning better.
But sticking to my new, strict diet got tough.
As a culinary instructor, recipe developer, and aspiring cookbook author, my whole life was about food...and I slowly fell off the wagon. I still ate gluten-free, but I was also eating a lot more dairy, sugar, and processed carbs, too. The fatigue and stomachaches started coming back to haunt me.
Every time I started feeling bad about how I was eating, I would spend a few weeks hyper-focused on my diet, start to feel better, and then slowly go back to my old ways.
Desperate to get back on track, but burned out from trying to eat clean all the time, I decided to refocus my efforts. Starting in January 2015, I decided make one new healthy change every month for the entire year. I'd focus on different parts of my diet and lifestyle (like staying more hydrated or eating more fiber), and keep track of how each change made me feel. By the end of the year, I would be able to figure out which areas of my life were worth changing for good, and which could stand a little more wiggle room.
I started big, with a 30-day "detox" from caffeine, alcohol, and processed sugar.
That first week was rough. I wasn’t a big coffee drinker to begin with, and giving up alcohol wasn’t too tough for me either, but sugar was a different story. I was having withdrawal symptoms like headaches and irritability, but knowing that this change would only be for 30 days helped me push through. I cooked more than ever before, eating more fruit, and thinking about what I was going to eat rather than reaching for something from a box because I was hungry.
By only the second week of the detox, I had constant, consistent energy levels throughout the day. By the end of the 30 days, I was sleeping better than ever before and waking up before my alarm instead of after my usual several snoozes. Without alcohol and caffeine, I didn't crash during the day, and had better-looking skin.
I loved how I was feeling, but I knew that for me, cutting out sugar completely wouldn’t fit into my lifestyle. Rather than beating myself up about it, I settled on a happy medium: I would simply pay more attention to how much sugar I was eating.
As for coffee, I still love the taste of it (and indulge in it sometimes on vacation) but I decided to switch to primarily green tea. And I try to stay away from alcohol on weeknights. I really notice how much it affects me the next day-I feel much groggier and it really shows on my skin.
I tried a new change every month, finding through trial and error what worked for me.
I continued focusing on one lifestyle change at a time, which I documented on my blog. A lot of this revolved around diet but I also tried out things I was interested in, like correcting my posture, getting more sleep, and making more time for self-care:
With each change, I felt like I added a new tool to my toolbox. Rather than pressuring myself to stick to all 12 changes every day for the rest of my life–and getting frustrated when I couldn’t-I felt empowered to incorporate what I had learned from each month’s challenge into every day in some small way.
Now, I’m 32, and it’s been almost three years since I finished my “year of wellness.” I'm still gluten-free, and I focus on eating more whole foods and fewer processed ones. I eat less sugar and drink more water. I drink green tea instead of coffee, and have alcohol every so often. I’ll indulge in carbs here and there, but they aren’t the crutch they used to be. I fill my diet with as many veggies as I can, and you won’t find me without a bottle full of water.
I now know that health isn’t about perfection, so I don’t stress about being perfect. And I've never felt better.
Phoebe Lapin is a culinary instructor, recipe developer, and author of . She’s the creator and blogger behind Feed Me Phoebe.