So why gluten, sugar and dairy-free? It’s a story that has been long in the making, which started at about the age of 5 for me.
It was the first day of attending school from a new house on a beautiful acreage my parents had just built. The air was crisp, and the leaves had begun to turn color as fall was on its way. There were all sorts of anticipation and emotions running through my gut as I waited for the bus to arrive. I felt butterflies, excitement, and nervousness. Would the kids be nice? Who would I sit with? I was excited to make new friends on the bus ride to school.
As it stopped in front of me, my heart started to beat rapidly against my chest. There were so many older kids, but it was the older boys—mean boys—that stood out the most. They began to taunt me. Laughter rang out like shots to my very soul. They called me fat. Ugly. I was five years old.
Although I didn’t realize it then, my world was being created in that image. The image of a fat, ugly little girl that didn’t belong. I was crushed. I felt ruined. I was shocked that anyone would be so mean to someone they didn’t even know. All of the excitement and light inside of me was replaced with sadness and a feeling that I wasn’t good enough—all before I could even sit down. I didn’t want to be on that bus. I wanted to be with my Mom or my Dad instead. They would never hurt me like that.
This experience created and shaped many of the patterns and actions that I would carry through for the next twenty years of my life. From a young age I became very self-conscious about my body and felt as though I was unlovable by the opposite sex. Hearing I was fat hurt me deeply.
I was raised by amazing parents, and they gave me so much love, but with strangers and people I wasn’t familiar with, I was very shy and tended to take time to come out of my shell. It all started with that one experience on the bus.
I grew up consuming the typical Standard American Diet. To give some insight, perhaps you recall a nutritional guideline of sorts, or those silly food pyramids given at school when we were young that preached which foods we were to eat, and how many servings a day. Eating tons of breads, cereals and pastas was emphasized, as well as plenty of dairy, fruits, vegetables and meat for protein.
Well I definitely ate tons of wheat and dairy, a bit of meat, and a few fruits and vegetables, but my favorite food group was sugar. Ice cream, doughnuts, sugary cereals, chocolate bars, candy, you name it, if it had sugar, it was my favorite. I didn’t care much for vegetables, at least not unless they were swimming in cheese or butter.
Growing up, my mother and I shared a close relationship. She was very loving and nurturing, and a big part of the relationship we shared together was food. We’d go out to eat, we’d go to the store and I could pick whatever I wanted—cookies, cakes, candy, chocolate bars—I was always consuming something with sugar, but it was like a reward, it was always fun to share with my mother. My father and I also shared a close relationship, but it was based more on activities like learning to ski, quad and sea-doo.
I was always a bit more on the pudgy side growing up, and again, I got the odd comment here or there from guys at school. I, of course, took this personally and it further verified what the boys on the bus had said that first day. It must have been true since it was still happening, all the way through junior high and high school. I thought since my mother was overweight (and her side of the family was overweight) that I’d inherited her genes. I believed that I too would always be a bit on the bigger side. It made sense.
I was not aware that the things I was putting into my body would make that big of an impact. I had no confidence. I was shy. I was too scared to talk to boys for fear of being hurt. I created the story that I wasn’t good enough, I was not lovable, I was chubby and ugly and that was that.
Humans are social creatures and we will find a relationship where we can, if not from someone, then from something. Substances, reckless activities, alcohol—for me it was food. So, the relationship I had with food grew. It was always there. It never disappointed. It always made me happy. Being surrounded by an endless amount of delicious, beautiful, sweet-looking foods brought me so much joy. I was always excited, so much that almost every memory I had created in my life had some association with food. It was like I could eat AND go swimming, eat AND celebrate Christmas, eat AND watch television.
There were always plenty of goodies to gorge on. The light came back brighter when I could enjoy my favorite foods and an activity. Another one of the habits I created was eating while watching television and movies. Eating junk food, sweets, or fast food while being distracted by the television was a habit that my parents and I shared together, we bonded while being distracted together, and eating. This was what love looked like to me. Little did I realize, down the road, this would be a large obstacle for me to overcome.
Once I hit high school, I wanted more attention, and I started to change. I was learning how to come into my beauty and I started yo-yo dieting. I decided to try to eat better, a few extra vegetables, less cheese and sugar. I ate smaller portions and lost ten pounds really quickly, only to go back to my old habits. It became a rollercoaster. I never liked my weight, it was always too high of a number, and I developed a lack of self-worth because of it. I saw other girls in school that were skinnier and got more attention. They had boyfriends and it made me jealous. I was so far away from self-love and acceptance, but was getting more caught up in having a better body image because I thought that was the only way I’d get guys to like me. I didn’t even know what self-love or acceptance meant.
After graduating high school I moved to Calgary, Canada to attend the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) for Broadcast News. I wanted to be on television. Once college started I felt like I had a new start. New city, new people, new everything and I felt like I could create more of a state of acceptance. My classmates and I quickly bonded, although, my nutrition definitely didn’t get better upon leaving my parents’ house and living in Calgary. I’d try to buy a few vegetables, but it was still full of garbage foods, and now since I was legal, lots of drinking. Partying was a huge part of the college lifestyle, followed by eating poorly all the time because it was convenient and our school schedule was so busy. There were plenty of trips to fast food restaurants and our building’s little café for dinners of ice cap latte’s and chocolate puffed wheat squares.
In December of 2005 I started to get random stomach pains, cramps and bloating, but I ignored it for a while, thinking it was nothing. But when it started to get bad, especially after eating really poorly, I went to the doctor. She diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, told me to eat less bread and that I would be fine. Time passed and I didn’t change much, even though I felt pain more often. I loved my sweets, junk food, and drinking far too much to ever give them up.
Eventually, I got a second opinion from a Holistic Doctor. She shared that I had Candida, an overgrowth of bad bacteria in my gut, and this was creating my symptoms of bloating, pain and constant cravings for sugar and refined foods. She advised the Candida diet for a few weeks, consisting of eating nothing but vegetables, eggs, meat, fish and brown rice. I didn’t care much, attempted the diet for two days and gave up. It was far too strict and I missed my comfort foods. This would be one of many future attempts of this diet for me to come.
Stress from a relationship created other health issues, and it was when my ex-boyfriend broke up with me that I started to calm down, relieve the stress and come back to myself. Before this happened I was hoping the doctors in the Western medical system could help me, but none of them could. They all wanted to put me on 1 of 25 prescription drugs and could not explain my symptoms. It was gifted Natural Health practitioners that were able to get me to the root of my health concerns.
Once I got my heart broken, I was determined to get him back, so I made the commitment to change my habits and lose weight. If I was skinnier and more beautiful, how could he resist me, right? Initially, because of the hurt I felt, I wasn’t hungry. All the love that had filled my heart, and me, was disappearing because the relationship was broken, and instead, a void appeared. I had to force myself to eat, and it was tiny amounts. I lost 7 pounds in 2 weeks and was motivated to keep going. I started to exercise and felt great relief from it. I had a spark in me from the heartache that I felt such a high after exercise, and I started to notice a difference. So did everyone else. My appetite didn’t grow, but my exercise routine did, and I lost another 7 pounds in 2 weeks. I was ecstatic.
My goal was to get to 125 pounds, and I felt like if I did this, I’d have conquered the world and would get my boyfriend back. The closer I got to my goal, the more I deprived myself to get there, eating only a set number of calories a day. Extreme guilt filled my mind and body if I ate too much, or consumed foods I wasn’t allowed. I would become disappointed in myself for not being perfect. I would scold myself on the inside, “Amber how could you, shame on you, you’re so stupid for doing that.”
It was like I was committing a crime and no one was to know I did this, as I was striving for perfection, and didn’t want anyone to think of me as less than that. I was working out 2 hours a day, 6 days a week and thought I looked and felt great, but it was hard to maintain. The drill sergeant in my head would scold me and yell at me to work harder when I had overindulged. “Do you want to be fat again? You won’t reach your goals eating like a pig.” That voice was such an asshole all the time.
As summer came, I went to a barbecue and had decided before I got there that I wasn’t eating any of the ice cream cake I was bringing, or any food other than a salad. I didn’t want to gain a pound, only keep losing to reach 125. Instead of watching what I ate, I gorged on everything from burgers to cake, and ate WAY too much. Then, I decided I would barely eat the next day and work out harder to compensate. Soon after, the pattern of bingeing and then depriving to compensate was created. I met my goal of 125 pounds. The bad news, my boyfriend didn’t want me back. I felt as if I’d failed, and even though I looked perfect physically, I still wasn’t good enough. I was crushed again and felt like I was that little girl on the bus all over again. My efforts felt like they were for nothing. I was so lonely and my void was getting bigger. My attitude became that if he wasn’t going to love me with this hot new bod, then screw it, it wasn’t worth it. I’d rather eat.
This is where my vicious cycle of bingeing really grabbed hold. I would just allow myself to cheat on everything I was craving. It turned into full days of me driving around the city buying all these foods I desired that would make me happy. I deserved it, I needed the love and the comfort since I was broken-hearted. I made the rounds to everything from Subway, to specialty cupcake stores, chocolates, or heading to the grocery store to buy 2 or 3 bags of junk food. Then I would go home and binge while watching television. I was completely distracted and numb from my reality, my emotions, and lack of self-love. I would probably consume anywhere between 4000 to 8000 calories on a binge day or evening, but I didn’t care.
The more I did this, the worse the cravings and my appetite got, I became more unhappy. Because now I was in pain, mentally and physically, and gaining weight like crazy. I gained 50 pounds in 4 months. I was ashamed and isolated myself because I didn’t want people to see how I used to look so thin and now so fat, that was complete self-defeat and sabotage in my eyes.
I was so angry. I blamed my ex, I blamed everything and everyone for what I was doing to myself. I would eat so much, be so bloated, and in so much pain that it was awful. But the cravings, and my mentality, overpowered me. I just kept doing it. I’d binge for a few days, then deprive myself, then get really hungry, get a craving and binge.
It was my secret world that no one knew about, and no one was ever to know about. I would eat so much and throw the rest in the garbage, but then a couple of hours later, I would go digging for it and eat more when I had room. It was my living hell. I was so ashamed, and addicted. I had hit my low. I never envisioned myself digging through my garbage to eat more. Disgusting. I felt worthless, I hated myself, I was humiliated, and I had no idea how I would be able to stop myself. I didn’t allow myself to have fun or go out and enjoy time with my friends because I was too fat and unworthy of enjoyment anymore.
After a year I realized I was being extremely unhealthy and wanted to change my ways. I started to clean up my diet slowly. I’d have one cheat day a week, and got back into exercising. The weight slowly started to come off. On my cheat day, I would still binge hard, and I still felt guilty afterward. It was difficult to get rid of my cravings after my cheat day. But this was my all-out day to gorge on my favorite foods.
After about 6 months I dropped from 175 to 145 pounds and it felt great. I was still obsessed with a lower number and wanted to be 125 to 130 pounds again. I was never satisfied with my weight. I would lose a few more pounds, hit 135, but then a trigger would hit, like having a bad day, or eating one bad thing, and that would be it.
It was like a switch in my brain would flip on and there was no stopping me. I would spend so much time fantasizing and obsessing about the foods that I would buy after work that nothing else occupied my mind. I had a bad day and I deserved some comfort. I would spend so much money on the food, go home and begin my pig fest. Those first few bites were like pure ecstasy. I felt so happy, like I was on a high. I felt relief, comfort, and a calmness come over me as I ate that brownie, muffin, ice cream, and cookies. I looked around me and saw the surrounding mass of food, popped in my movie, and felt like I could escape away. Nothing mattered, and I felt nothing, for that time because I was numb from my emotions.
The vicious cycle hadn’t really stopped, but it was less often. I began to cut out more, as I began to read and research about food quality, nutrition and how certain foods could be almost addictive-like. First were dairy and alcohol, as I wasn’t really a fan of dairy anymore and didn’t want the empty calories from drinking. I’d make more poor food choices if I was drinking, and this would completely derail me, and for now, I didn’t want that. I also read more about Candida and the foods that fed it, and alcohol was one of the worst culprits. Others included sugar, refined carbohydrates, yeast and even dairy.
I also tried every diet. No dairy, Vegan, Vegetarian, just drinking smoothies, just eating salads, fasting, low carb. You name it, I’ve pretty much tried it all.
Attempting to cut out sugar and gluten was an extremely difficult struggle. I’d be successful for a few days, then crave them and binge. After more reading, there was evidence that suggested gluten and sugar had addictive qualities like heroin and meth. Not only was I psychologically in pain, but I had a food addiction, which added to the vicious cycle. The more I consumed, the more I would have to consume next time to get the same blissful high, before crashing and burning. After reading more about sugar and gluten addiction I felt relief that I wasn’t crazy and I was addicted to these foods. I knew I could overcome this addiction, but it would take dedication and hard work to do so. If I could cut the addictive foods, my binges would be over, and I’d be free. I’d go back and forth and gain and lose the same 15 pounds over and over, this wasn’t good for my mind, body or anything.
I was fed up with the awful cravings and committed to fully give up processed sugars and gluten—for my health, and for my sanity. I figured if I felt the need to binge I’d rather eat too much fruit, nuts or smoothies than have to deal with the awful temptations of gluten and sugar.
At first it was extremely difficult, but I kept going. After a few months, my cravings for gluten, sugar, and refined carbs started to go away and I wasn’t binging as often because of it. My moods were getting better. I noticed that consuming gluten and sugar made me in an almost depressed-like state, feeling worthless, guilty and in pain. It would always take at least 5 or 6 days for these feelings to subside and for me to feel more like myself again.
I had realized I needed to let go of the pattern of bingeing and this would be my biggest challenge yet. I was told by someone that if I could let go of this, I would really be able to open up and become extremely in tune with my body, which would, in the future, help me with my career.
I really wanted this for myself and I had to try. After cutting out sugar and gluten I realized that my problem was actually on a psychological level, with the bingeing and emotional eating, because I still wanted to binge on healthy foods. I was still trying to fill a void, and bingeing was familiar, comfortable and no one could take that away from me. I could hide in shame and eat away all my fears, worries, doubts, insecurities, sadness, and anger in the forms of a dozen muffins, pancakes, smoothies, a bag of nuts, whatever I craved. A bag of brown rice pasta and a container of goat cheese, I’d stuff myself so full until I felt sick.
I wanted to stop, but the feelings were far too strong, and now I had created intense food sensitivities to these healthy foods I was bingeing on, which made me want to consume them even more. In the end I created more havoc. After doing more reading, I discovered when you create food sensitivity, on many levels, your body makes you crave this food even more. This completely made sense, but I had a whole new crop of foods to cut out, since I had been binging on them excessively and was now addicted and sensitive to them.
I was up and down from 135 to 150 again within a few weeks. I knew I had to stop. I knew my body was extremely sensitive and unhappy with me, and I was scared that continuing this behavior of self-hate would eventually kill me. I didn’t want that, I had too much amazing life to create for myself.
One evening, I went online and started doing research on eating disorders. I found websites, blogs, and videos of tons of people, mostly women, who were dealing with the same thing as me or had overcome their disorder. Seeing how common this was made me feel better, like I was not alone. I was also saddened to see how many others were struggling with the same hell I was.
Reading some of the blogs of women who were in their recovery from binge, emotional, compulsive eating, anorexia, and bulimia inspired me. If they could do it, there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t. I had to really help myself. A big part of that stepping stone forward was to share with others what I was dealing with and get some support, this was not something I wanted to do on my own.
I saw a psychologist once and that helped somewhat. Then, I found seeing a Medical Intuitive helped me so much because she was able to interpret what my body was trying to tell me, but I couldn’t understand yet. I told my best friend and a few others, and I felt a bit better. I wanted to love myself, and when I realized that bingeing was self-hate, I really didn’t want to do it anymore. If I wanted to truly love myself, I would have to stop this destructive behavior that was running my life.
After going through a cleanse, and ending some shaky relationships, I needed comfort and chose to choose food. The whole time I thought I was “in control” I wasn’t. I was so afraid to lose control that I was living in fear the whole time thinking, “I wonder which day will be the day I let go and tumble back down.”
Your thoughts create your future, so I believe, and my thoughts of losing control became my reality. This time I was devastated, as I had been sure I’d released the demon for good. But it was still about body image, compulsion, and escaping myself, which was easier than facing emotions and reality.
This time around, I accepted that I had more to learn before I could be rid of bingeing for good. So I allowed myself to sit in it and observe because I wanted to learn why I was doing this, so I could know how to let go of it for good. Food was not my enemy, and I was creating it to be a bad thing when it’s a means of survival. It should be enjoyed, to a healthy extent.
Being in the clear, and then falling back in really made me realize how using food as a coping mechanism didn’t serve me any longer. I finally had the courage to share my story with the people I truly cared about, and with the world, because this time, for real, I was ready to take responsibility for my life, my health, well-being, and sanity—to choose to love myself.
I was sick and tired of making myself sick and tired, bloated, in pain, and falling so far off track from who I really was, that it would take weeks or months to get back to me. My body deserved better.
I had realized it came down to me choosing: ignoring overwhelm, ignoring feelings, getting too busy and deciding, “I need a break, an escape, a disconnect from myself and I want to stop feeling all these feelings and numb myself.”
I’d learned that I’d wanted to escape myself a lot, and did it so much that I would gain and lose my connection with myself over and over, which I was learning was the most valuable relationship in my life. The self-love and care disappeared when I chose food and, to me, was like hurting an innocent puppy. I would never do that, so why would I choose to continually hurt myself? I chose fear over love, and I had been suffering alone inside.
Along with directly dealing with reality and my emotions, I started to eat in a different way. Although, at first, I didn’t have much of a choice. All my stomach could handle were steamed vegetables, meat, eggs and some healthy fat like avocado and coconut milk. I had put my digestive system through so much hell that it was like a war zone and had had enough.
Accepting this was hard, but I was determined. I wanted to re-balance my poor gut as it had become so sensitive and, as per my vow to love myself, I wanted to heal mentally and physically. The thought of cutting out everything that would agitate my digestion upset me—no fruit, no nuts, no gluten-free muffins, no brown rice—it made me sad. But it wasn’t really making ME sad, it was making the little crazy person in my head sad, because I would no longer be giving in, going through the highs and the lows. I’d be heading toward a state of balance. That little voice in my head would throw a fit like a little 5 year old kid, but I wouldn’t give in, not anymore.
I read a really cool article on how to help re-balance the digestive system and it mentioned eating 3 well-balanced meals with good portions of proteins, carbs, and fat. This would help my intestinal lining to repair, reduce my cravings, and keep me satiated between meals. The thought of eating steamed vegetables all day was not appealing, but I had to try. It wouldn’t be for forever. The first week sucked, plain and simple. I craved nuts and fruit so bad, and had a headache, but refused to give up. It got a bit easier the next week, and so on, and the best part was, I wasn’t binging! I had no desire anymore whatsoever. The combination of directly dealing with emotions and staying satisfied with my meals was making a huge difference in my life.
I started to feel freedom, like it was working. Through cutting out the things I craved, my body was able to open up and crave things it really wanted like a fresh salad, home-made guacamole, or a thick, juicy bison steak! I became aware of my triggers, or what I liked to call my “red flags” and I stayed away from them the best that I could.
Starting the C.H.N. Holistic Nutrition program at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in the fall of 2012 also helped, as it fed my passions, I was learning more and I was busier, in a healthy way feeding my body, mind and soul with knowledge instead of food.
This made me happy, and in my heart I could feel how good I was going to be at school and with my career. I realized why I was put through this hell. All of this happened so I could come out on the other side with a purpose, a gift. A gift to understand the vicious cycles that psychological voids, food addictions, and emotional eating patterns can create such destructive behavior, but it can be overcome with a great support system, addressing the root cause and re-balancing the body, mind and soul. I understand what others are going through with their issues around food because I went through it myself. I was a victim to addicting foods, body image, and then creating destructive behaviors that took over my life.
Now I have been able to add in a lot of amazing whole foods that I have come to love. Can you believe I had never tried a fresh pear until this year? This is because the only memory I had of them before was trying the canned variety in sugary syrup as a child and hating them. Organic, fresh pears are amazing, like candy, nature’s candy. I eat a variety of fruits, tons of vegetables, proteins like bison, chicken and turkey, eggs, tons of avocado, coconut and flax milk, flax and hemp seed, and a variety of other clean foods that keep me completely satiated, satisfied and without negative cravings. I guess it’s similar in some ways to Paleo, but I do still add in gluten-free grains like quinoa, brown rice, teff, and amaranth, which I love also.
Everyday I am able to add something back in, because the psychological cravings are gone. I don’t feel like I don’t have enough anymore because I have plenty of everything. Plenty of love, food, happiness. My stomach and digestive system also feel better everyday thanks to my self-love and dedication. This has also allowed me to add foods back in that I haven’t had in ages like bananas, gluten-free muffins, raw chocolate and goat cheese, which I no longer crave and can eat on a regular basis and maintain my control.
It’s no one’s fault, and I blame no one. It’s just taken time for me to go through it all, learn, and realize for myself why it was happening—to become aware it’s not love. And I wanted to love me. I didn’t want to disconnect from myself or be numb anymore. I wanted to be present in every part of my life. FEEL feelings and emotions…and the rain on my skin, the warmth of the sun. I wanted to feel love with myself, a connection I’ve been longing for my whole life that now I can give to me.
That’s what I wanted and that’s what I’m giving myself now.
I want a lot for my life: a successful career, endless self-growth and learning, many adventurous memories, a loving relationship with a man, kids one day, to be genuinely happy, and to be free from food and body-image being the focus of my world. I want to treat myself with love, care, and create a nurturing environment where I can fill my void with passion, love and things I love.
Now I continue to move forward. Listening to my body and treating my intuition as my own best friend. My intuition has grown, and is another gift that is serving me more and more each day. Now I listen to the best friend in me, rather than the voice in my head that would sabotage me over and over. I want to continue to learn and grow, to keep on this healthy path and open my life to all of the opportunity that is headed my way.
There is so much I can offer this world and I can’t wait to keep moving forward and enjoying life. I can’t wait to sit down with my clients and create a space where they can be open, honest, and feel comfortable, where there is nothing to hide.
This is my journey and I am finally creating the courage to be open and share this. Living the beautiful, fulfilling life that I was born to live lights me up inside now.
I create a foundation of confidence, passion, love, power, knowledge, and nourishment. I am not scared or ashamed to tell my story anymore. It has opened the door to create a safe space for others to share their story, which is another gift to me, as it has made me realize how many people close to me have gone through, or are going through, similar things, and that I have inspired them to want to improve their own quality of life. Being told I’m an inspiration feels really amazing.
I wanted the opportunity to show you that no matter what you are dealing with, or what you have gone through, you can always create courage and choose to take a different path this time—one full of love and power instead of fear.
So now that I’ve found my balance, even through making this book, I have really seen how my relationship with myself and what I eat has shifted so much over the past few years. I never would l have dreamed that I would be able to be free of deprivation and creating all of these beautiful, delicious recipes to share with the world.
My experience has deeply inspired me to show others you can live a life of love and freedom from deprivation and guilt and enjoy your favorite foods without sacrificing for poor nutrition and the feelings of guilt and shame.