The worst night of my life was May 25th, 2012. The days and weeks before, I’d been feeling chest pains and numbness in my left arm and leg, and it only seemed to be getting worse. After Googling the symptoms, I began to fear it was heart-related. The symptoms always seemed to get worse after I ate, so when I felt the pains after lunch that day, I was too afraid to eat dinner. I got home from work and started crying as I told my mother about my condition. I really feared I was going to have a heart attack. And I was only 26 years old.
The full story of my health actually goes back a lot further than that. All the way back, really. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a vegetarian. But that doesn’t mean I was healthy. My diet consisted mostly of pizza, pancakes, french fries, and desserts. When I was I child, I ate what I liked and didn’t know any better. In my teen years, I realized that eating pizza every day could not be healthy, but I was never overweight, so I figured I was just lucky health-wise and could eat whatever I wanted.
When I was in college, my poor diet started catching up with me. I suffered from digestive issues, chronic fatigue, and brain fog. Most worrisome, that’s when the chest pains began. After graduation, I went to see my doctor and found out I had high blood sugar and was at risk of developing prediabetes. I didn’t need any medication, but he suggested I start exercising, and he gave me guidelines to improve my diet.
The exercise part was easy— I just started jogging everyday. The diet, on the other hand, proved more difficult. I was always a picky eater, and though I was a lifelong vegetarian, I never ate actual vegetables. I started making adjustments to modify my diet in my own way. I added fruit (an apple and banana a day), and I substituted white bread and pasta for whole wheat, and I used low-fat milk and cheese on my cereal and pizza, and I cut out added sugar by drinking diet soda and using artificial sweeteners in my coffee.
With the diet and exercise, I lost a lot of weight, but I’d experience seemingly random swings between extreme fatigue and energy. I couldn’t figure it out. I was exercising daily, and I thought I was eating healthy, but I still experienced the digestive issues, chest pains, and numbness. I decided to start adding vegetables to my diet by putting spinach on my pizza and pasta. I got used to the taste, but it didn’t seem to work because that was in early 2012— just a few months before the worst night of my life.
After I told my mother and grandmother about my symptoms, they realized I was seriously worried, but it was a Friday night, and our doctor’s office was closed, so they took me to the hospital. I didn’t want to go, especially since I didn’t have health insurance, but frankly, I was too afraid not to. The doctors ran a series of tests on me, and everything seemed to come back normal. The only test left was an MRI, but I had to wait until the morning for the neurologist to arrive.
I spent that night in the hospital, unable to sleep, wondering what was wrong with me. The next morning I took the MRI, and the results came back normal, except for a herniated disc in my neck. The doctors said there was nothing to worry about and sent me home. I should have been relieved, yet that was still the worst night of my life… Because I knew the doctors were wrong.
I went to see a chiropractor for the herniated disc in my neck, which slowly healed, but I was still stuck with all the previous symptoms: the chest pains, the digestive problems, the numbness in my extremities, the constant fatigue and brain fog. I’d seen three different doctors who performed countless tests, and all I had to show for it was a giant hospital bill. They couldn’t find anything wrong with me, but I knew my body and felt something was not right. I knew I was headed toward diabetes or possibly something worse, related to my heart.
I decided enough was enough and took my health into my own hands. I researched extensively online. I downloaded a bunch of health podcasts like Bulletproof Executive, Rich Roll, and Underground Wellness. I watched NutritionFacts.org videos on Youtube. I watched documentaries on Netflix like Food Matters and Forks Over Knives. The more I learned, the more I slowly changed and improved my diet, and the better I felt. I grew to love vegetables of all kinds and experimented to figure out which diet worked best for me.
The most dramatic improvement came when I removed gluten and dairy from my diet. Having eaten pizza literally everyday as a kid, I never could have imagined I’d be able to live without bread and cheese. But here I am today, living, with all of my previous health problems gone. I have no more chest pains, and I have endless energy, both mental and physical. And it’s all because of my plant-based diet. I’m not saying everyone needs to become a gluten-free vegan— paleo or some other diet may be healthier — but all I know is what worked for me. I think the most important thing is to just eat real food.
May 25, 2012 may have been the worst night of my life, but there was a silver lining. That night in the hospital was the wake-up call I needed to take control of my health through my diet. I guess I’ll never know what was truly wrong with me, but now it doesn’t matter. I healed myself using nothing but natural food and supplements. I know I’m still far from perfect, but I feel better than I ever have in my entire life.