I launched Anya’s Eats 10 months ago. A big part of me is pretty amazed at all that’s happened in that period of time, not just with the blog itself but in my personal life as well. I quit my job, bought a house, renovated the house (well, still renovating), moved, set a wedding date, started planning a wedding, launched a one-woman marketing agency and all the while, somehow found time to create some pretty tasty recipes and blog posts for you all. On the other hand, the perfectionist and overachiever side of me is a little disappointed that I had to put some things on hold that I’d planned to accomplish within the last 10 months.
One big project I decided to put on hold was a huge digital marketing resource that I have started to create for small brands. I had wanted to launch it this month but decided a few months back that I had bitten off a little more than I could chew. I realized there was just no way to do everything I’d set out to do if I wanted to stay sane and healthy. In fact, my health was the main driving force behind deciding to put that project on hold and to take this whole working for myself thing a little slower than I’d originally intended. I started following a paleo diet nearly 6 years ago, but it’s really only been within the past couple years that I’ve truly felt in touch with what works for me when it comes to my overall health & happiness.
For those of you who have followed my blog from the beginning or if you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen me talk a lot about my struggle with hormonal acne. Although adopting a paleo diet solved a great deal of my previous health issues (which I will get into in a moment), I started suffering from hormonal acne within months of going paleo. It took me half a decade (literally) to figure out what was wrong and while the journey was extremely painful, embarrassing and frustrating, it also brought me so much clarity.
I’ve wanted to share my full health story with you all since the day I launched Anya’s Eats, but last summer when I launched the blog was also when my acne had gotten worse than it ever was. I didn’t know how to talk about how a change in diet and lifestyle had “healed” me when I was still suffering from something so severe. Not to mention, something that started at the very same time I changed my diet and lifestyle for the better. You can imagine the frustration and confusion! I knew deep down that my struggle with acne didn’t negate the immense health improvements I’d seen in other aspects of my life but there was a huge part of me that felt extremely insecure about myself and my ability to help others make healthier choices.
For that reason, I held back. It’s been about 8 months since I started to truly heal and to be perfectly honest, I am not 100% healed. I would say I’m about 80% there, which is huge, but the journey is in no way over. Regardless, I decided that I didn’t want to keep my mouth shut any longer. I want to tell my story once and for all in the hopes that it can help others who might be struggling with similar issues feel less isolated and hopeless and I don’t really care that much anymore about attaining some sort of “perfect” health before sharing all of this. There is no such thing as perfect and if I’ve learned anything over the past 6 years it’s that there is ALWAYS something new to learn and ALWAYS new ways to grow.
This story is not short and it’s not easy to tell, but I am so ready. Plus, after deciding to put my big marketing project on hold, I realized the silver lining was that I had more time to share this with all of you. So, here goes. Oh and just one warning before I get started… if you are uncomfortable with me talking about poop, you should probably stop reading now. 🙂
This story starts before I can even remember. Literally. I was an infant. So much of what I went through as a kid has been shared with me by my parents. I remember bits and pieces, but most of what happened I learned through them. In short, since I was only months old, I struggled with digestive issues. When I was an infant that manifested itself in pretty severe colic, when I was a few years old and throughout my childhood, to put it bluntly, I couldn’t poop. No one is quite sure whether that was because I physically couldn’t or because it was so painful that I just held it in. I don’t remember and my parents were never sure. Either way, bowel movements were extremely few and far between and when I did go, it was miserable. Painful, slow and pretty scary, especially when I was really young. There’s a pretty well known story amongst my family members that when I was really young and had to go to the bathroom, I would scream at the top of my lungs “My poopie, my poopie!” We all love to laugh about it now but as a kid, I was legitimately horrified of going to the bathroom.
This issue landed me in countless doctors offices all throughout my childhood, none of whom could tell my parents what was wrong. They poked, prodded (literally), but nothing made a difference. We’re all pretty positive those doctor visits made the situation worse, most likely making me even more fearful of going to the bathroom. As you can imagine, having strange men put their hands, instruments and suppositories up my behind was not exactly a walk in the park.
Looking back and knowing all that I know now about gut health and digestive wellness as a whole, I am pretty positive I was struggling from a severe lack of healthy gut bacteria in addition to suffering from several food sensitivities. Of course none of what must have been hundreds of doctors that we visited suggested that might be the issue.
Between the ages of about 7-21, the doctor visits subsided and I started to come to terms with the fact that this was just how life was going to be. Of course I was old enough at that point not to scream when I had to go to the bathroom, but my system was far from regular. Going to the bathroom daily was completely foreign to me and my normal routine was going every 3-7 days. Yes, you read that right. I would often go a full week without pooping. As you can imagine, not only did that lead to pretty terrible stomach pain and a complete lack of appetite, but it also meant that when I did go, I would sit on the toilet for hours, struggling immensely with what felt like constant constipation. You’d think that after a week of not going to the bathroom that things would come out easily, but that was far from true for me. My family all knew that when I closed the door to the bathroom, it could be an hour before I emerged.
In my teenage years I had to find unique ways to sneak off to the bathroom in hopes that no one would realize I had disappeared for so long. More often than not, I would just avoid going all together, which would inevitably make the problem worse.
After two decades of living like this, it really all began to feel pretty normal. I convinced myself that while others might enjoy daily trips to the bathroom, that was just never going to be me. I didn’t seem to have any other issues with my health and I had learned to live with this one problem. It felt manageable.
When I decided to adopt a paleo diet and lifestyle at 21, it wasn’t because I thought it would help my digestive problems. In fact, I actually did it as an experiment. After watching a documentary called Fat Head (which I highly recommend), I was completely intrigued by the idea that it was carbohydrates, not fat, that lead to sickness and obesity. In 2010 paleo was pretty unknown, but a close friend of mine told me about Mark’s Daily Apple. Everything he wrote about made so much sense and I decided I’d give it a try. What was most enlightening for me was realizing how much sugar I took in on a daily basis. I wasn’t eating cookies and cake, in fact, I’ve never had a sweet tooth, but I was eating foods I thought were “healthy” when really I was taking in far too many processed carbohydrates than anyone should. My breakfast would often consist of a couple pieces of toast with jam, a huge glass or two of pasteurized orange strawberry banana juice (loved that juice) and the rest of my meals would always contain more unhealthy choices disguised as “health” foods.
The first few weeks were tough. I craved bread and sugar like nobody’s business. But, I was determined and completely transformed what I ate and how I exercised. I decided to keep dairy in my diet at the time, but followed nearly every other paleo principal there was. The first big change I noticed was my lack of hunger. (I will return to this again in Part 2 of this story). After eating whole, nourishing foods that my body needed, I realized the hunger I’d felt before wasn’t normal after all. Sure, I would get a little hungry before I ate but I no longer suffered from that debilitating hunger that left me unable to think straight if I didn’t get my fix. The second change was an improvement in my digestion. Since I had truly convinced myself my digestive issues were here to stay, this one actually came as a surprise. I’d read so many success stories about how paleo had helped people with all sorts of health issues including digestive problems, but after over 20 years of living the way I had, I didn’t think something as simple as diet would fix it.
Well, I was wrong. It helped tremendously. Eliminating grains and gluten from my diet played an enormous role in allowing me, for the first time in my life, to have a relatively normal routine when it came to going to the bathroom. I am pretty sure that even after I started suffering from hormonal acne, seeing how paleo had healed my gut was a major reason I kept it up for as long as I did. It was hard for me to believe that paleo caused my acne even though the two things started simultaneously, because I’d seen such immense improvements otherwise. Plus, I tried eliminating other foods for a month or so at a time, thinking maybe it was dairy or eggs or nuts that were causing the acne, but nothing ever healed my acne, so I would just return to my normal routine.
For 5 years, I kept things relatively constant. I wasn’t as strict with my diet as I was for the first year but I was generally pretty consistent. One big thing to note is that when I did “cheat”, I definitely cheated. That meant beer, pizza, bagels, etc. I knew that eating those foods regularly wasn’t a good idea but I didn’t think that enjoying them once in a while was that big of a deal. I never experienced any sort of immediate reaction from those foods so I figured sure, they probably weren’t the best for my health or waistline, but they weren’t doing any sort of permanent damage.
For those 5 years, I really felt like I’d attained a good balance. I wasn’t crazy strict with my diet and my digestive issues had almost completely disappeared. Of course, there was always the acne problem looming over my head like some black cloud. Sure, paleo had solved so many of my problems, but was I doing something wrong? How could I feel so healthy in some ways but so unhealthy in others?
Last summer, when my acne was at it’s absolute worst, I would spend hours sobbing and locked myself in a room, refusing to leave the house. After a couple of failed naturopath visits where I was told there was “nothing wrong” with my hormones, I researched my butt off (unfortunate pun intended?) and decided to make some major changes to address what I learned was most certainly hormonal issues. In all honesty, I didn’t have very high hopes that it would work, but it was my last ditch effort before doing something drastic like going on Accutane. Accutane scared me half to death but after so many years of suffering from painful, embarrassing bumps all over my face, I truly didn’t know what else to do. I felt as if I had tried everything.
Truth is, I hadn’t tried everything. And even though I’d tried some things before, I didn’t stick to many of them for that long before getting frustrated that they weren’t working. About 8 months ago, at my absolute lowest point, I changed my attitude. I committed to a strategy and stuck to it. I told myself that I would give it a full 6 months before giving up. When you are struggling with any sort of health issue, 6 months feels like an eternity. Thankfully, I started seeing results after about 3-4 months and although the progress has been painfully slow, it’s totally working.
The past 8 months have taught me so much and at this point, I am thankful to have gone through what I did. I finally feel as if I am able to apply all of the lessons I learned through my 5 years of following a paleo lifestyle, my experience as a health coach and the knowledge I’ve gained about hormones and acne and apply it to a solution that works for me.
In short, my diet has become more strict in some ways but less strict in others. I’ve paired certain dietary changes with supplementation and lifestyle changes in order to address what I’ve learned are pretty severe hormonal and gut issues. Healing my digestion through paleo was a major step in the right direction, but that’s all it was, a step. There was still a long journey ahead of me that I finally had to give into…
Interested in learning what I’ve discovered as the root cause of my hormonal acne and what changes I’ve made over the past year and what I’ve done to address it? Stay tuned for part 2!
In the meantime, make sure you are following me on Instagram and Snapchat (username: AnyaKaats) to learn all about my favorite products, health tips and get a sneak peek of all the behind the scenes craziness! Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter so you never miss a post, including Part 2 of my health journey!