Above: My BEFORE healing picture. This picture was taken in 2008 on lunch break from my corporate job at a farmer’s market when I had started to feel sick and turned to food to help me heal. I was so thin and didn’t realize yet that the next few years I’d be suffering from numerous, ongoing seemingly endless chronic illnesses.
It’s been almost 8 years since I started this beautiful website of mine in 2009 and I wanted to take the time to write an article to fill in anyone who is new to The Healthy Apple and might not know my story of how I went from a decade chronic illnesses on disability to perfect health. I’m about to re-launch The Healthy Apple very, very soon with a whole new look and feel so I thought this would be the perfect time to share a little bit more of my story.
As my friends often say, “You can learn a lot from Amie in a short period of time: How to whip up a grain-free zucchini pizza crust; how to bake delectable brownies without flour, gluten, dairy, eggs, or even sugar for that matter; how to make a DIY kitchen cleaner that’s so safe you can drink it, how to get quiet with yourself to listen to the negative comments you tell yourself each and every day- that end up affecting your well-being and health, and so much more.”
Many people say that I’m the picture of a healthy woman (blonde hair, upbeat and happy personality, glowing skin)— a career success story, having left the corporate world to launch The Healthy Apple, LLC back in 2009. I’m beyond grateful for the life I live today. After suffering for a decade from just about every health issue under the sun, I learned how to heal my body and pull myself out of the victim mentality of being ‘sick’. Now, I spend my days cooking for celebrities and working with some of the most incredible food brands and mind-body brands worldwide. I also work one on one with clients all over the world to help them discover what doctors are missing (I have this wild skill to look deeper at different things that doctors often miss in all of my clients—because that’s how I ultimately healed myself). I found the missing holes doctors missed and I healed them. Today, I help my clients gently detox, uncover the root cause of unwanted symptoms, and eat clean to fight inflammation. The results are miraculous and having gone through the process myself, I get it. I know what it’s like and it’s not easy.
I also contribute to numerous publications, websites and magazines where I share new recipes and talk about my healing story to inspire others to take control of their health. In addition to that, I travel nationwide to speak to large audiences and host retreats; work as a spokesperson for major brands via brand consulting, TV, radio and videos; execute menus and recipe development for brands and restaurants and of course develop all the yummy recipes you see on my website as well as the food styling and food photography. For more on my services, check out my Services page. I also just launched set of NEW Anti-Inflammatory Programs to help reach more of you and teach you how to navigate your health to heal once and for all.
My recently published best-selling cookbook, Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body (Houghton Mifflin 2016), was written to give you the tools and inspiration for detoxing your life from top to bottom, and eating more healthfully and happily than ever before (it also features a foreword from Mark Hyman, M.D.).
So, how did I do it? How did I heal my body and take back my life? That’s what I’m going to share with you today…
Overcoming Chronic Illness
Inside my cookbook and here on TheHealthyApple.com, you’ll learn something about me you’d never know by looking at me: That for the past 10 years I struggled with severe chronic illness, was diagnosed with everything from Lyme to PCOS to chronic candida, and more than once lay on the floor of my bathroom, in pain, crying, unable to eat a thing or even move.
What started one day in my early 20’s as unexplained swelling in my legs (40 pounds of water weight that left me unable to wear anything but spandex) and was misdiagnosed as leukemia, spiraled out of control. At one point, during countless visits to hospitals and clinics, I picked up C. diff Colitis, a harmful bacteria, and was given 24 hours to live. My belly, beset by an overgrowth of bad bacteria, swelled to the point where people started asking me if I was pregnant. I went on disability for a year, schlepped in and out of medical facilities all over the country, including the famed Mayo Clinic, racking up nearly half a million dollars in uncovered medical expenses, and giving the equivalent of my body weight in blood every few weeks for years. And after five years of western medicine (including numerous bone marrow biopsies, CT scans, MRIs, colonoscopies, and more) that yielded no real answers, I discovered integrative and functional medicine and embarked on years of self-study into detox, as well as every holistic and mind-body modality you can think of—plus earned a degree in integrative nutrition. I also created my very own team of integrative M.D.’s (more than 20) who helped me identify the root cause and supported my efforts to get well.
But the question that kept spinning through my head the whole time was why? When I looked back at my childhood to see what could have possibly caused this mess, I came up empty handed. I couldn’t understand it. It’s not like I grew up downwind of a power plant. I was lactose intolerant, but that was about it. I had always been a healthy girl, with a healthy appetite, eating what’s considered a healthy American diet. I avoided alcohol, drugs, and fast food as a way of life. I was such a ‘good’ girl. I couldn’t imagine how this had happened.
As part of this massive integrative effort, I went through a battery of highly sensitive tests that picked up on things that Western docs had missed (Lyme, PCOS, chronic candida, heavy metal accumulation, mold toxicity, hormonal imbalance, hypothyroidism, SIBO and more). One genetic test was particularly telling, as it revealed that I was missing a gene called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), which 35% of people are missing. Carriers of this gene are unable to detoxify as efficiently as everyone else, and as a result, toxins accumulate, causing irritable bowel, arthritis, even cancer. When you’re missing this gene, you’re also more susceptible to environmental toxins (herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals), which then bind to fat receptors and compromise your methylation, the process by which your body repairs DNA and keeps inflammation in check. You need methylation to stay healthy, and I was not methylating, period.
In my book, Eating Clean, I go into great detail about MTHFR testing, as well as a list of the most trusted resources for integrative and functional tests that you and your doctor can use to chart your best next steps—something I wish I had handy 10 years ago. It would have saved me a ton of money, time, and frustration when I was trying to figure out what was actually wrong with me- when all the other tests kept coming up negative, but I knew something was wrong!
Having an integrative medical team was key—but I knew that in order to heal, and especially given my genetic disadvantage, I had to transform the way I was living to give my body a fighting chance. So in addition to the treatments administered by my integrative doctors, I did my homework for years- reading every book I could get my hands on and working with over 500 doctors- and I went to town to detox my diet and lifestyle.
In other words, it was time for a detox, in the truest sense of the word—not a trendy 2-day juice cleanse. We’re talking a serious and intentional effort to review everything I put in and on my body with an eye toward dramatically reducing my exposure to environmental toxins. Those toxins come from countless places— from processed foods and pesticides, car exhaust and other pollution, and cosmetics. I was very cautious (as I mention in my book) and in my life not to be fearful of these toxins or freak out about the toxins that I was bombarded with on a daily basis. I was sure to be mindful of everything around me and made small changes throughout the past few years to better my well-being as often as possible.
What is Detox?
While the word detox is thrown around a lot, it’s often misunderstood. Rather than a quick fix you use when you’re coming off a bender, the goal of a true detox is to reset your digestion and dramatically reduce and remove your exposure and intake of environmental toxins.
Of course, any detox effort starts with food. So I cut out many ingredients that lurk in even the most benign of American meals: gluten, dairy, soy, refined sugar, corn, eggs, as well as pretty much anything in a can, box, or bag. No processed foods, preservatives, fillers, emulsifiers, or dyes. I went on a 21-day food elimination diet (which I lay out step by step in my book) to help me identify what foods were causing inflammation in my body (and this varies from person to person). I filled my fridge with fresh organic food—and took out almost everything else. For a while, when my leaky gut was so bad, I subsisted on veggies and protein powder blended in a food processor, and at one point, baby food.
But detox didn’t stop with food—what went on my skin mattered too because our skin is our biggest organ and we absorb what we put on our skin from makeup to sunscreen to deodorant. So I started drinking filtered water only (no plastic bottles); I use the Berkey water filter for my drinking water and this shower filter for my shower. I tossed all my “healthy” conventional beauty products in favor of cleaner personal care products such as coconut oil for eye makeup remover and toothpaste (it’s been shown to inhibit cavity-causing bacteria and is free of harsh chemicals). Here are a few of my favorite non-toxic beauty products (and more in my book).
Once I started to detox my entire life (and detox my home), I started to feel a lot better and my blood work (liver enzymes, thyroid, etc. all started to normalize).
I’ve experienced first hand the effects of toxicity in my body and sadly it took me years to realize it was toxicity because I was on a cocktail of drugs acting as band-aids instead of knowing there was another (and safer) way to actually heal my body. And while I had the benefit of great doctors on my team, I learned that you also in some ways have to be your own doctor (not to self diagnose but to take action and challenge your doctors) because you know your body better than anyone else.
Feeling Deprived? Empower Yourself.
But, I constantly get asked, “Is it a bummer to have your food, and your life, so limited?” Not to hear me tell it. There are still some foods I can’t eat. But do I miss them? Honestly? No. I developed over 200 plant-based recipes for my cookbook, Eating Clean, and lots of new recipes each week here on TheHealthyApple.com, all of which are gluten, dairy, egg, refined sugar, corn, peanut, and soy-free. I want to make delicious, clean, healthy food easy for all of you. But more than that, I’m on a mission to empower and inspire people like you who feel lousy and don’t know why. I want to help you feel amazing again, and show you how fulfilling and flavorful your food, and life, can be.
When people ask me if I wish I could go back to when this all started, and change some things, maybe prevent it altogether, my response is always the same: “No way.” I can still recall one day when I pulled up to one of the hospitals I was admitted to, feeling sick and confused, and saw a group of construction workers hanging out, smoking, drinking soda and eating fast food, having a great time. I thought, how is this fair? I realize I put myself in the victim role and it didn’t allow me to heal. I had to empower myself and believe in myself because I was the only person that was actually going to do the work every single day to get my body back into balance. Since then I have learned two things: One, that I had to change my mindset, and see that this was happening not ‘to’ me, but for me. The other thing is to be happy and focused on the present moment- to not worry about the future or ruminate over the past. Those thoughts are internal toxins that negatively affect our health, as well. Being happy and present in your life is the kind of hope and peace I wish for everyone.
As for what I’m looking forward to next? Eating Clean may be my first book, but it’s certainly not my last. An avid and enthusiastic speaker, I am also excited about sharing my story at more events, hosting nationwide retreats and doing more TV. I want to inspire you to take control of your health and your lives so that you can feel normal again. After ten very long, expensive, exhausting and traumatizing years of chronic health issues, getting up everyday without pain and not needing to take a nap or do a protocol or take supplements or go from doctor to doctor feels AMAZING. I feel like I’m back to normal (feeling even better than I did in my 20’s)- and trust me, it is a wonderful thing. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for just that. And if you are struggling, please know you will get there, too.
Above: My AFTER picture. After healing my body in March of 2016 with the launch of my cookbook, Eating Clean.
My Clean Eating Manifesto
- There is no one ideal diet.
You don’t have to eat the superfoods that seem trendy. Everyone’s diet will be a little different, based on your individual makeup. This isn’t about putting a label on yourself. The most important thing is to eat whole, organic, fresh foods that make your body feel good.
- If a food makes you feel lousy, it’s not for you.
Forget the trends or whatever the buzziest superstar is doing. You are the expert on what you can eat, and no matter what anyone says, if something doesn’t make you feel good when you eat it, chances are it’s causing inflammation in your body. Real, clean food should never make you lethargic, bloated, or irritable.
- Feed your body, not just your belly.
You do not subsist on calories alone. You need a whole spectrum of nutrients and vitamins to feed you on a cellular level. A 100-calorie snack pack is not the equivalent of 100 calories of an avocado. One is pro-inflammatory and the other is anti-inflammatory. Choose foods with one ingredient, such as an avocado, and you’ll be feeding your body, not just your hunger pangs.
Knowing how to buy food is almost as important as figuring out what to buy.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to shop smart and simple:
- Be realistic. This is the best way to not only end up with a fridge full of groceries that you’ll want to eat, but also to save money. Don’t buy quick-to-spoil items in bulk and be mindful of foods you know in your heart you’ll never eat.
- Streamline. Organize your shopping list by where you’ll find those items at the store, such as produce, gluten-free whole grains, spices, frozen veggies, etc. Stick to the list and avoid making spur-of-the-moment impulse buys.
- Improvise. You might have kale on your shopping list, but collards are on sale. Go for it; sometimes you have to let your wallet do the talking.
- Stock your freezer. Keeping ready-to-eat homemade foods in your freezer is like finding ten bucks in your coat pocket, and saves you time and money. Roast or grill veggies and freeze in small batches. Keep frozen berries frozen for morning smoothies.
- Take risks. Try one new whole food ingredient each week; it will encourage you to get a little creative with your meals. And who knows, you may find a new ingredient you love!
Here are a few of the most popular recipes on my website and in my cookbook. I hope you enjoy every bite.
- Grain-Free Zucchini Pizza Crust
- Fabulous Lemon Millet Burgers with Cumin Cashew Cream Sauce
- Grain-Free Sweet Potato Flatbread
- Zucchini and Ginger Pesto on Zucchini Logs
- Easy No-Bake Raw Chocolate Coconut Banana Tart with Grain-Free Crust
Sending you all so much love and the biggest hug. I hope my work inspires you to live clean- not because you should, but because once you see life this way, you’ll never go back. Ever. I’m living proof.