Two years ago, my life got a huge lifestyle makeover. I went from someone who was dipping cookies in coffee to someone who doesn’t eat cookies at all.
It all started with my diagnosis. After seeing a lot of doctors, I finally found out why I had acne for 11 years, why it was so hard to lose weight, and why my hair was getting thinner and thinner.
I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a health condition that can’t be cured but can be put into remission. While my struggles with acne and hair loss left me wondering if there’s some cosmic conspiracy to make my life a living hell, allowing my PCOS to run wild came with serious consequences.
I was at a high risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even the dreaded ‘’c’’ word (cancer).
The diagnosis left me terrified — I knew I would have to deal with PCOS for life, and I knew that my diet contributed to my condition. However, now I also knew what was causing my issue. So for the sake of my long-term health, I had to completely change my relationship with food, exercise, and anything that was under my control and could potentially impact my hormonal health.
Here are 5 things I learned on my journey from a Nutella lover to a broccoli eater.
1. Logging everything I eat makes my life 100x easier
I learned early on that my acne was fueled by what I ate. Anything high in carbohydrates would spike my insulin and worsen my condition.
I used my skin as my compass because the effects on my skin were immediate. If I would eat pasta on Monday, on Tuesday I would see pimples in the mirror.
Enter food journals. There’s one application that I open every day: my food log. It enables me to track my calorie intake, and it also gives me a birdeye’s view of my macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Tweaking my diet to fit my daily requirements and budget is almost like a game to me. I enjoy it, and it brings some order to my otherwise chaotic life.
However, in the beginning I wasn’t tracking anything. I was a mapless traveler. I remember my doctor advising me to avoid counting calories because it would drive me crazy. I received the same advice from well-intentioned acquaintances. They told me to eat less and move more!
Although I realized that other people could develop obsessive behaviors from logging everything, I had to do it to see how much I was eating and what kind of nutrients I was getting..
2. Eating unprocessed foods boosts my immune system
During the first stage of transitioning to a healthier lifestyle, I didn’t think much about unprocessed foods. After all, a calorie is a calorie, and as long as I hit my macronutrient goals, I was supposed to be fine, right?
But, really, I wasn’t. Every day, I was ingesting additives that humanity has only been exposed to for the last 50 years, I was subjecting my body to things the human body didn’t evolve to deal with, all the while thinking I was living a perfectly healthy lifestyle.
When I finally switched to consuming only unprocessed foods — on a whim, mind you — I didn’t notice a difference right away. Then several months passed, and the winter came, and with the winter came the dreaded flu.
Growing up, I’d get the flu once or twice per year, and almost every year, like a clock. And I’d always need a lot of medications, sometimes even antibiotics to beat it. I was like this even when I was a child, so to beat a flu without having to rush to a doctor was something incomprehensible for me.
Yet since the year when I decided to eat unprocessed foods — coincidence or not — I have only had the flu three times, and each time I didn’t need any medications to fight it off.
3. Looking like a fitness guru is a pipe dream
When I started out I had big dreams and big goals. I couldn’t even do one push up. Even my knee push ups were done with bad form.
So what was my goal? To get an extremely toned abdomen and do at least 20 military push ups — bam!
Two years later and my abdomen still isn’t made out of rock, or any hard material for that matter.
I can do many knee push ups with good form, but I still can’t do military push ups. I’m in the best shape of my life, but my goals were simply unrealistic. After watching so many videos with people getting ripped, I thought that looking like a fitness model was doable for anyone who works out.
The problem was that I was comparing myself with people who make their bodies their 9-5 job. The only thing fitness influencers worry about is looking good so they can back up the advice and the courses they’re selling. Unfortunately, that’s not how I make a living, so I have to juggle work with taking care of my health.
And while I’m still working on increasing my strength and cardio, I no longer use somebody else’s progress as a measurement for my success. I’m fitter and healthier than I was two years ago, and that’s enough for me.
4. Cheat meals aren’t for everyone
I saw many athletes and bodybuilders schedule days where they would have a cheat meal. So I believed that in order to stay on track with my lifestyle, I’d occasionally have to reward myself with junk food so I don’t crave sweets as much on the days when I’m more strict with my diet.
There was one problem with my approach: Each time I would eat junk food, I would either get acne due to the spike in insulin or I wouldn’t be able to control my portions.
I remember waking up at 4:30 in the morning and running to the fridge, knowing that on that day I’m going to have a cocoa cream with mascarpone. Not only did I end overconsuming cream, but it also felt dysfunctional to me. Why am I so obsessed with sweets? Wasn’t I just fueling my addiction to something that wasn’t good for me in the first place?
While I won’t go as far as to say that I won’t have cheat meals again, I am willing to say that I won’t consciously plan them out because doing so trains my taste buds into believing that junk food is celebration food.
I’ve also realized that my energy is better spent on finding recipes that are both delicious and healthy, instead of dipping my toes into my old habits once a week, every week.
5. Healthy eating saves me money
My first line of defense against my PCOS symptoms were supplements, skincare products, and hair products.
The supplements that were meant to regulate my cycle were costing me around $60 per month, add to that all the skincare and hair loss products I was purchasing on a regular basis. Keep in mind that I had a small budget to work with at the time, and I would sometimes skimp on more important things just so I could afford a cream.
The worst part was that my money was going down the drain on products that weren’t even working that well.
No cream, cleanser, or serum ever helped me get clear skin, despite them being recommended by board-certified dermatologists.
And, minoxidil, which is the only FDA-approved treatment for hair loss, didn’t work for me at all. I had to quit minoxidil because it would make my scalp itchy and sensitive.
The only approach that worked for me was balancing my hormones from the inside out. After changing my diet, my acne started to clear up within weeks. After two or three months , my hair stopped falling out and I no longer needed Inositol to maintain a regular cycle either..
Was it worth it?
Making the decision to live a healthier lifestyle didn’t just impact my health, but it also raised the bar of expectations for myself. I now believe I’m capable of accomplishing things that I never thought were possible a couple of years ago.
Walking into a supermarket and ignoring 80% of the products because they’re bad for me is hard, but it’s also empowering. Now, I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat, like I’m in control of my life.