Getting Clear on My Internal Body Goals: How Changing My Diet Changed My Self Love for the Better

By Tiffany Renee. Photography by Deun Ivory.

My recovery from my first (and only!) major surgery was quick, efficient, and fairly easy considering the length and extent of the procedure. I wake up each morning and am thankful for my scars on my belly. Yes, even the keloid scar. I love those scars because they are the signs of my own intelligent, organic healing process. By combining natural and conventional medicine, my body remains a Temple of Me; it is restored, healed, and I love it. Below I outline the start of my journey into mindful, medicinal eating and the clarity that process brought me.
I realize that not everyone will have as intense of an experience as I have; but here is what can ring true for you as you start, or continue, your own journey:

  1. One of the most loving acts of self-care is adapting a mindful, clean-eating regimen. I used to chemically induce the release of serotonin, spike my blood sugar, added a layer of starch, salt, and cheese, and provoke oxytocin. I ate until I was too full to do or feel anything else. It was this reactionary relationship with food that aided in my declining health. It was time to implement new, healthier coping skills.
  2. Get clear on your goal in order to achieve it: mind/body/spirit re-connection, letting go of a sugar habit, a purposeful detox, etc. Once you reach that goal, feel free to set another.
  3. Seek support from your holistic practitioners, such as your clinical herbalist, especially if you have a pre-existing condition. You never know how simple a solution could be until you ask for guidance.
  4. Your diet changes and your body are your own unique experience. If you have to eliminate fish first, then mammal meat, that is perfectly fine. Listen to your body, and then listen again.
  5. View your diet change and your body’s response as a meaningful conversation, as opposed to a struggle. Listen to and learn the language of your body.

The relationship I have with my body changed in 2014 when I discovered a baseball-sized lump in my lower abdomen. It seemingly popped up out of nowhere, protruding next to my belly-button, as if to say: So, we need to talk. I was exhausted, stressed, deeply unhappy, and felt trapped in my daily life. I felt unfulfilled, so I turned to food to fill the void and dampen the pain. Instead of navigating and resolving any stress in my life, I would put a cupcake on it. This unhealthy and reactionary relationship I had built with food was starting to backfire.

Three doctors, two x-rays, dozens of blood tests, a handful of ultrasounds, and an MRI later I sat down and faced my reality: Tumors. At first, I was in awe. That is the practitioner part of my personality. I clicked through my MRI images and started counting the globes that did not belong, yet somehow grew, in my body. My awe faded once I stopped counting at six. The black and white images on the screen seemed to patiently await my comprehension. Dread and panic set in. My OB/GYN confirmed that I measured close to someone nearing the third trimester. The following week the blood tests confirmed one autoimmune disorder and suspected a second. The natural detox supplements my holistic doctor gave me resulted in deep blue hives due to a hidden allergy. It became clear that my body was mad at me. My body was inflamed and screaming at me. And I, too, was just as pissed. I felt betrayed.

“Body, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”  Why didn’t you pay closer attention?

“What were the signs?” You don’t know the signs? I’ve been telling you for years…

The harsh reality was that I needed major surgery if I wanted a chance to lead a healthy life. This is how I began my journey of re-learning how to love myself. This was my starting point in rebuilding my intuition, and, most importantly, learning how to forgive myself. I was working two jobs and had just finished graduate school; I knew that I only had one chance to prepare and heal as best I could. I literally could not afford to NOT love and respect my body or myself any longer. From that day forward, I became the Temple of Me. It was time to clean house and implement new coping skills. I weighed my options and made a plan.

The Elimination Diet: A process of removing food groups from your diet in effort to identify an allergy or intolerance. People slowly remove dairy, sugar, wheat, corn, and all other processed foods out of their diet and slowly re-introduce the foods, one by one. The idea is to observe how your body does with and without the eliminated food groups.

I reached to the roots of my education as a clinical herbalist. I utilized customized Traditional Chinese herbal formulas and Ayurvedic medicinals to help keep my body, mind, and spirit in sync. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the power of herbalism, it is like acupuncture and energywork in a teacup. In the guidance of a well-trained practitioner, herbalism is your elixir of health and healing. I paired this with the elimination diet to reduce my autoimmune (inflammatory) response as much as possible before and after the surgery. This process helped me understand what foods my body loved best.

During this detox process, my love for myself grew in unexpected ways. My body’s positive response to diet change was the physical sign of gratitude. Ditching dairy resulted left me feeling less sluggish and less bloated. I felt lighter even in the depths of winter. Giving up wheat and corn resulted in the dramatic reduction in systemic inflammation: less jaw and joint pain, sharper mental focus, considerable reduction in fatigue, and my cravings for coffee and sugar dropped nearly in half.

My most poignant observation, however, was when I had reached the point of no dairy, no meat, and no caffeine. My menstrual cycle was completely painless and manageable after two months. There was no premenstrual syndrome (PMS). When I reintroduced meat back into my diet, I started with bone broths infused with medicinal herbs such as astragalus and burdock root. I went out of my way to different farmers markets to purchase their animal products and noticed a major difference. I also noticed the negative impact when I consumed commercial animal products. I began to mix up my sources of protein to plant based foods: nuts and beans. I began to consume small amounts of protein (handful of nuts or a hard boiled egg) every three to four hours to avoid a dip in energy.

The Practical Application Tips:

  1. Your sugar and caffeine cravings might be a call for fuel and hydration. Try water and a source of protein (handful of nuts or hard boiled egg) first, and then reach for the coffee.

  2. Cook your food. Steamed vegetables might be easier on your digestive system than raw – even in the summer. Our bodies work extra hard to breakdown raw foods and steaming or fermentation aids in the breakdown process. Try steaming your veggies first, even if you eat them later cold. My favorites are hummus and steamed broccoli in sesame oil or kimchi and steamed greens. During the winter I shy away from fruit unless it is something I can bake, such as apples or pears.

  3. Eat your meals. Smoothies and protein shakes are fantastic, but nothing replaces the chemical reaction of releasing pre-digestive enzymes which takes place during chewing.

  4. Be consistent in supporting your eating habits. It takes some preparation but having a healthy snack every three to four hours might go further than waiting for three meals a day.

  5. Stay hydrated. This gets two spots because it is that important. When in doubt, drink the water.

From a holistic point of view, my body was overrun with processed sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils, wheat, and dairy. In Chinese Medicine, we call this heat, damp-heat, and stagnation. This can result in a number of symptoms such as estrogen dominance, chronic fatigue, mental fogginess, joint inflammation, skin irritation, irascibility, and depression. I eliminated food groups in stages every seven to ten days and practiced veganism before reintroducing foods. It is a gentle way to press the “reset button” on your digestive health and relationship with food.

In the end, I stopped blaming myself for not catching the fibroid issue sooner. I started thanking myself for catching it when I did. I began to thank my body for its resiliency. That twelve month period surrounding my surgery had the biggest impact on how I showed myself love. I began to show up for myself. I invested more time in my nutrition and lifestyle. I began to dance again. I dismissed the toxic people in my life. I made new friends. I went to see a therapist. I kept diligent in my new, healthier lifestyle. I met other people who had like-minded health-oriented lifestyles. And I stayed grateful. Each morning and every night, I count my scars just the same as I count my blessings. I am thankful for each one.

Tiffany Renee contributes to BGIO as part of her calling to be of service for the greater good.
She is a native northeast-coast, Philadelphia born gal who has called Chicago her home for the
past eight years. She can be found in the dance studio teaching or taking bellydance & taichi
classes as part of her daily self-love practice. You can find your Urban Herbalist Medicine
Woman at www.mahoganypoint.com