To set the context for my story, it’s helpful to start by saying that I’ve been on a personal growth, spiritual growth and natural health path for at least the past 27 years. And I was born into a family of Ukrainian immigrants who were themselves raised with traditional life-in-the-village values. So it has always made sense for me to choose the natural approach over any medical interventions whenever possible, and it also made complete sense for me to become a personal growth and success coach for a living.
I think it’s common for people in my line of work to have had more than an average share of their own personal challenges, and that has certainly been true for me. The short list includes chronic seasonal depression and candida in my teens, 20s and into my early 30s; later bouts with severe chronic fatigue for several years; and a chronic and ever-increasing set of symptoms such as intense body pain, hair loss, difficulty sleeping and difficulty with focus and concentration—overtly for more than 15 years, and actually for my whole life to some degree. It was only in 2008 that I realized what I was dealing with was consistent with all the literature out there describing fibromyalgia.
My professional background geared me toward taking personal responsibility for my results and being ruthlessly determined to master my health just as much as any other goal. This set me up with a double-edged sword where, on the one hand, I remained intent on perfect health as a real possibility and, on the other hand, there was tremendous despair about my challenges. The bottom line is that I was always searching out, studying and trying on whatever I could find for healing my mind and body.
Besides all my personal growth and spiritual practices, I became a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and experience—I tried everything, including acupuncture, homeopathy, holistic medicine, macrobiotics, all sorts of natural supplements and even traditional medications, to some degree. I was on what I understood to be the anti-candida diet for more than 25 years, sticking to eating only (animal) protein and vegetables with every meal. Everything I tried certainly moved me along on my path, but nothing fully resolved the intense personal suffering and poor health that was under the surface in my life. I kept it mostly to myself, choosing to be my own positive support system, but this also meant having to deal with years of despair, frustration, fear and anger about my condition.
At one point, in 2009, I decided I would throw all reservations to the side and promised myself that I would follow every hunch and intuition I got for a full year in my quest to gain perfect health. Enough was enough, and I decided to take out all the stops and leave no stone unturned. It wasn’t until 18 months into my one-year challenge (didn’t I say I was determined?) when I finally got what was to be the pivotal missing piece to reaching my goal.
In May 2010, I was put in contact with a medical intuitive who told me, “Irene, I swear to you, if you do exactly what I tell you to do, you will heal completely.” I decided to take him up on this, and he proceeded to turn my diet around 180 degrees on its side from everything I thought was right. Ultimately, he had me eating only raw fruits and raw salads with no oils and very little fats in the form of nuts and seeds. I eliminated all meat, dairy, eggs; all grains and legumes; and also vinegars, oils, caffeine and processed foods and, soon, I stopped cooking food altogether.
A few months into this, I also did a three-day water fast, taking in only water for three days, with rest, to speed up my healing. The results were so amazing that they far exceeded my greatest wish. I had signed on for this diet with the hope of eliminating the body pain. If it were to also help me sleep better and stop the hair loss, I would be thrilled. And in that first three-day fast, indeed all the pain did go away—to my utter amazement. I was not ready to believe it and assumed the pain would probably return once I started eating again. But the truth is that about 95 percent of the pain was gone by the second day of fasting, and it has remained so for the past four-plus years as long as I adhere strictly to the low-fat raw vegan diet.
Eventually, I realized I was following a diet known as the 80/10/10 diet and became a student of Dr. Douglas Graham, who coined the phrase. He had been a professional athlete and worked with, among others, high-performance athletes to improve their edge by training them to eat this way. Without his input, I don’t think I would have come to understand and master this simple way of eating.
Less than two years into this diet, I began dating, understanding full well that my diet would probably be a point of incompatibility, but I thought I might be able to meet a man, Doug Smith, who would at least accept and support me in this lifestyle. Again, I was amazed to find a man who decided to join me 100 percent in this way of eating, even though before he met me his diet consisted of a “healthy” version of the standard American diet. For him, the transition was actually very easy since I had ironed out all the kinks in the system. He just did it “cold turkey,” so to speak. We both are now enjoying the “fruits” of our labor, eating 100 percent whole, fresh, raw, ripe organic fruits and vegetables, emphasizing 80 percent of our daily calories to come from carbohydrates, 10 percent from fats and 10 percent from protein (consuming only raw fruits, raw vegetables and a small amount of raw nuts and seeds).
The benefits of this lifestyle are many and keep growing. For my partner, after six months of eating a low-fat raw vegan diet emphasizing fruits, his high blood pressure went down from critically high to healthy levels, his cholesterol levels dropped 60 points and his rosacea cleared up with only a trace of it remaining. He went from a tight 32-inch waist to a loose 28-inch waist, and his energy levels are more consistent and higher than they used to be when he drank three cups of coffee a day. What I am most impressed by is how easy it seems to be for him to stick to this way of eating without reverting to any old favorite foods for occasional treats. He’s still solid after two-plus years, and he isn’t looking back.
To tell the whole truth, unlike my partner’s easy transition, I have struggled with cravings and missing the foods I used to enjoy. In the beginning, I tried to have the occasional treat, telling myself it would be harmless if I had a piece of fried chicken once a week. Occasionally, I would pick up a gluten-free, dairy-free organic frozen vegan pizza and justified it one way or another. In the supermarket, I would take from the open dish of corn chips and salsa as I walked by and looked around to see if anyone saw me. I was angry when I saw TV commercials for fast-food chains or Italian restaurants, feeling tempted, alienated and unrepresented. And I hated how separate I felt by shopping only in the produce section while I imagined that everyone else in the world was shopping in the other parts of the store. I actually found myself craving foods I had not even eaten in 25 years! And, yes, sometimes I bought and ate an entire bag of potato chips.
Eventually, in the early stages of this transition, I came to realize that I wasn’t getting the results I had been promised because I wasn’t adhering to the plan. It was only after I stopped cheating entirely for several months that I was able to experience the full benefits I’m reporting now. Even after that, I would sometimes find myself incapable of saying no to cooked or processed food that was within reach at a party or around my family. Meat, dairy and grains all held seductive power over me for a long time. Fortunately and unfortunately, I got immediate feedback after eating those foods. Within a few hours, at most, I began to notice screaming pain returning in my neck or back. I found myself becoming, at first, cranky and then I would enter into a swirl of negative thinking, anger and despair that completely colored my view of reality.
I began to realize that the emotional turmoil I had dealt with about my health for years had not just been about my condition but may have actually been caused by it, too. Each time I succumbed to temptation, I was reminded of how critical it was for me to commit 100 percent to this program if I really wanted total health. Eventually, through study and support, I realized that the cravings were due to having not had enough calories earlier in the day. I wasn’t eating enough fruit to satisfy my body’s need for nutrients and fuel. Once I learned to consistently track that I was having enough calories, I no longer had such a difficult time saying no to tempting foods.
Now, in just more than four years on this diet, I remain 95 percent pain free or better. I don’t find clumps of hair in my shower, and I can fall asleep with ease as long as I have had sufficient calories that day. People keep commenting on the quality of my skin and how I look overall. But beyond that, I have found a level of peace, a positive outlook and the mental clarity and focus I never thought was possible.
The well-being that has become my normal state on any level you can measure is far beyond anything I imagined possible for me, and it far outweighs the social inconvenience of eating differently than my friends and family do. To the people who are concerned about where I get my protein from or to those who think eating fruit is bad for your blood sugar, will make you fat or believe all the other misconceptions and half-truths out there about eating fruit, my best response is—look at me and my results and the results of my partner. There’s a ton of make-sense science I can share with those who are interested to explain why this diet works and why it is the most sustainable to maintain long-term, but ultimately I tell them that I do it and trust it because I proved to myself that it resolved all my symptoms and has me feeling better than I have ever felt.
I want to encourage anyone out there who is struggling with diminished health in any way to take on the challenge of stepping away from the mainstream approach to health. The culture we live in believes that making compromises—whether in moderation or excess—in diet and lifestyle are OK to make because there are medical interventions available to offset these insults to keep people healthy. We all know this same culture has grown accustomed to considering rampant obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer—all lifestyle-related illnesses—to be normal and, therefore, the standard for what is considered healthy has dropped dramatically.
There is an attitude shift behind the low-fat raw vegan approach, which challenges you to become a leader and authority figure in your own life. There are emotional reactions, mental debates and various food addictions and cravings to face. Staying focused on the goal, forgiving yourself and getting support to improve your system are keys to your success. Deciding to stand in front and lead, no longer looking for a well-worn path to follow but becoming part of a growing movement that will be an example for others, has tremendous side effects of empowerment, health, well-being and even prosperity.
Keep your eye on the prize—full health of mind, body and emotions. The total picture is to have clear mental faculties, good memory, strong focus and concentration, energy and vitality, a pain-free and enjoyable body, full mobility, emotional poise, positive outlook, inner peace, creative inspirations, a spiritual connection that is strong at your core, great-looking skin, look youthful and ideal weight. This has been my experience since starting, even before I set out to master the fitness component.
Selfishly speaking, by sharing my story with others, there may be others who will join this club. The more the merrier!
Watch a Fruit-Powered Video Interview with Irene
Discover Irene’s 6 keys to breaking the procrastination cycle!
Hungry for more? Check out Irene’s Tomato Celery Soup recipe!