When I was twenty-two, I was diagnosed with an extreme form of ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease that viciously attacks an otherwise healthy colon, resulting in severe—and in my case, life-threatening—malabsorption, malnutrition, and anemia. In the first few years following my diagnosis, I was so sick I had to be hospitalized multiple times, and on more than one occasion, I required emergency blood transfusions and iron infusions just to stay alive.
In an attempt to manage my symptoms, my doctors prescribed high doses of steroids and other medications, the side effects of which were often as bad as, if not worse than, the disease itself. When I asked them whether food might affect my condition, each physician told me the same thing: “Diet didn’t cause it, diet can’t help it, and diet can’t cure it.” But as I continued relying solely on the prescriptions, my symptoms only worsened. My sickness controlled my life until I decided to take matters into my own hands and drastically change my diet.
After doing some research, I decided to stick to unrefined whole foods—the way people ate before the agricultural revolution changed the way food is grown and processed. I like to say it’s the way humans were designed to eat before mass production ruined food and before convenience and immediate gratification largely displaced fresh, healthy, and real foods.
Almost immediately after I changed my diet, my symptoms began to subside, which was the sign of hope I needed to press forward. But virtually every dish I loved growing up had at least one if not multiple ingredients on my “can’t have” list. That triggered a whole new list of fears and concerns:
Does this mean I’ll never again be able to enjoy all the rich, creamy, sumptuous foods of my childhood?
Who’s going to want to come to our house for a meal or a holiday celebration, knowing I’ll only be serving grain-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, and dairy-free food?
Will people even feel comfortable inviting me to their homes and special events, knowing I probably can’t eat what they’re serving?
My guess is that you have many of the same questions. And believe me, I get it. When you’re forced to alter your diet drastically for the sake of your health, it’s natural to worry that much of what makes life worth living will be lost along with your newly eliminated food groups. It’s understandable to worry that you will miss out on special occasions with family and friends or be unable to provide homemade cookies for a child’s party.
Well ... over ten years, thousands of recipes, and three New York Times bestselling cookbooks later, I promise you, you can effectively manage your symptoms while still enjoying truly amazing food! The process may not be perfectly smooth, and you may hit bumps and setbacks like I have, but your entire life can change for the better.
If you’re new to grain-, gluten-, and dairy-free living, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from various types of autoimmune diseases, and millions more from food allergies or chronic ailments. While diet may not provide a complete cure, changing how and what you eat can help you manage your health.
That’s why I wrote my new book, Food Saved Me. I want to share my journey so that you will know there is hope. Hope that you can live a full, happy, and healthy life without ever feeling hungry, excluded, or deprived. Hope that with each setback comes new learning and a renewed sense of determination. And hope that food can radically change your life for the better.