Today on the blog we’re sharing Annie’s story about how she’s managed her Lupus, an autoimmune condition, with Whole30 and then Paleo. Through using real food, Annie has decreased and eliminated medications, gotten off steroids, lost over 90 pounds, and is living her best life. I know you’ll love reading Annie’s inspiring story of how eliminating inflammatory foods helped her find her healthy.
Find Annie on Instagram, at @wholepaleoannie!
I’ve been overweight my whole life. Growing up, I was always the biggest one in my class, always aware of how tight the desk was around my body, and my appetite for sugar was insatiable. I couldn’t get enough of all the packaged sweets the world had to offer. My mom took me to a dietician when I was 10. I was given a food plan that encouraged me to eat smaller portions and stick to the food pyramid guidelines. I didn’t follow it.
What kid wants to eat grilled chicken and steamed broccoli when their friends got to eat pizza? At 14 I tried Weight Watchers. I didn’t follow that, either. It wasn’t fair that my friends were ordering double portions of lunches in the school cafeteria, while I brought in homemade cabbage soup that had almost zero calories and zero flavor. I used that excuse a lot when it came to eating not-so-healthy food; everyone else is doing it, so I should be able to as well.
Looking back on this, I can I see that my cravings for sweets stemmed from loneliness. I had some good friends, but I knew that people teased me about my weight behind my back. I saw my friends dating and I wondered if I would be alone forever because I hated my body and felt uncomfortable at my size.
At 19, I went to college and had free range in the cafeteria. I knew what healthy food consisted off, but it’s never what I turned to after a long day of classes. That’s the funny thing about most people who are overweight. We know what healthy eating consists of. We’ve done the research, we’ve been lectured about it, but it’s incredibly difficult to break away from not so healthy habits.
My weight continued to balloon upwards. Age 23 brought me to my highest: 309 pounds. I remember seeing that number on the scale in the doctor’s office and just being in pure disbelief. I thought something would have kicked in and stopped me from becoming this large a long time ago. I remember seeing people bigger than me and thinking, “I’ll never get that big.” Here I was, CLEARLY over 300 lb and still not willing to change my lifestyle. It took another 3 years before I decided I was ready to overhaul my lifestyle and lose the weight.
It was January 2015, I had just started a 9-5 contract position in the Finance industry and I was #adulting. Time to get this weight under control! I started by counting calories through MyFitnessPal and taking Zumba classes regularly at the local YMCA. Things were going well and I lost about 35 pounds by mid-summer. That summer I can only call “The Mysterious Summer of Pain.” I’d wake up with swollen, stiff joints, and general achiness all over my body. I chalked it up to the new exercise plan and treated it the best I could. I’d take hot showers in the morning to warm up my joints, pop some ibuprofen, and roll on BioFreeze like it was my job.
These troublesome symptoms continued into the fall and my Dad, my trusted Pharmacist Father who talked me out of every WebMD black hole I fell into, suggested I see a rheumatologist to get blood work done. I met with a Rheumatoislogist in September 2015 and was given my diagnosis: Lupus.
What the heck is Lupus? Is it contagious? How did I get it? My doctor explained that it’s an autoimmune condition that I had a predisposition to due to my genetic make up. He explained that I didn’t contract it, but that it merely became active in me at this point in my life. The symptoms I’d been experiencing my whole life seemed to come together like puzzle pieces. I’d experienced skin rashes on my legs and arms, Sebborhic dermatitis on my scalp, and was diagnosed with Hypothryoidism at age 22. These are all conditions that fall under the Lupus umbrella as I like to call it.
I was put on a “Lupus Starter Kit” of Prednisone and Plaquenil. At first, the Prednisone was my saving grace. The pain went away for the first time in months and I could still remain fairly active at the gym. The trade off of this steroid was that my appetite increased and long time Prednisone use can lead to bone damage. I felt incredibly sorry for myself and fell back into all my old junk food habits. Those pity party nights of junk food eating added up over time.
I could feel myself putting the weight back on, but I didn’t do anything to stop myself from the path I was taking. By summer of 2016, I was taking numerous OTC pain meds daily in addition to the Prednisone and Plaquenil just to survive the constant chronic pain. It was a hot summer; the heat and humidity wore me out. I remember coming home from work some days and lying in bed until the next morning. Pain and exhaustion would take over my body.
Some of the worst pain I experienced was right before it rained. The pressure would build and send my entire body into this stiff, achy state of being. I cancelled plans, I took sick days, and I felt imprisoned in my own body. I had packed on 25 of the 35 lb I had originally lost the previous year. I met with my Rheumatologist in August 2016 and saw 299 on the scale. I went home and cried that day. How could I have gotten up so high again? Am I going to be living with this chronic pain my whole life? There has to be another way.
My roommate at the time had done a round of Whole30 and I thought it seemed extreme. It was so much work! So much… sweet potato! I researched the program and read about how some people living with autoimmune conditions, such as my Lupus, had found success with eating a nutrient dense, real food diet a.k.a. The Whole30. 30 days without my beloved diet pop, cheese, and bread seemed awful, but I was desperate for any sort of relief.
On September 1st, 2016 I started my first round of Whole30. Days 2 & 3 were rough. The withdrawals from my steady intake of daily sugar were real. It felt like a bad hangover, but I continued to push through. By Days 5 & 6, the daily joint pain had lessened significantly. That little spark of relief propelled me forward. Days 14 & 15 brought looser fitting clothes and more energy. By the end of the 30 days, I was sleeping better, fruits and veggies tasted better, the joint pain was all but nonexistent, and I had lost over 15 pounds. I kicked my diet pop habit, my sugar cravings decreased, I felt amazing, and I didn’t want to stop. I decided to transition into a Paleo diet to keep the weight loss and gut healing momentum going.
Through the Whole30 and the Whole30 reintroduction, I discovered that soy, legumes, and fake sugars were some of the biggest inflammatory triggers in my body. Knowing this information has helped me decide if eating that type of food is “worth it” in that moment. The weight has continued to come off and I’ve lost over 90 lb by channeling my inner cave girl. I’ve been able to decrease and eliminate medication with the guidance of my rheumatologist over time.
Since I decided to use food as medicine for my Lupus in place of painkillers or steroids, my tolerance for non-Paleo food waivers a bit. Sometimes gluten makes me sleepy, sometimes dairy makes me a little inflamed, but I’ve learned that I’ll be reintroducing and evaluating how food affects me for the rest of the life and I’m ok with that. If eating certain foods keeps my bodily inflammation pain to a minimum, I’m more than ok with that.
I thought the diagnosis of my Lupus was the end of my life. I thought that I was sentenced to live a life with chronic pain and excess weight. In a way, my diagnosis saved my life. I had to come to a place of utter frustration and pain, to find my path towards healing my body. I haven’t sent my Lupus into remission and I’m still on some medication, but I haven’t put those thoughts out of my mind. In fact, they are two of my current driving forces towards the future. Never underestimate the power of eating real food.
Thank you, Annie! I’m so happy you’ve shared your story of healing here with us, and so proud of you for taking the reins back. To keep up with Annie, find her on Instagram at @wholepaleoannie. Her Instagram stories give me life, you won’t be disappointed!
This story does not replace medical advice from a qualified professional. Always consult with your physician before starting or stopping any medication.