Getting Real About Diet and Health


The year I went vegan, I experienced more health improvements in a shorter span of time than I’d ever experienced before. My IBS, a longstanding nightmare for me, began to abate considerably. I had more energy. I stopped being as prone to colds and respiratory infections. I felt stronger. This wasn’t all thanks to veganism; it was also thanks to the fact that I had been steadily recovering from an ED relapse, and veganism helped to propel my recovery forward. I’d probably have felt stronger and more vital that year no matter what, because I was eating normally for the first time in a while: three squares a day, plenty of variety, and so on. But the food I was eating was more nutrient- and fiber-rich, more nourishing, and more pleasurable than any food I’d ever allowed myself to eat before, and I knew right away that it was the right lifestyle for me.

That year, I realized through firsthand experience that the food we eat has a profound impact on how we feel. I was able to identify foods that hadn’t been serving me (fat free candies and snacks, artificial sweeteners, dairy), and appreciate foods that did serve me: luscious, healthy fats; nourishing whole grains; hearty, legume-studded stews; giant, nutrient dense, and colorful salads. I was able to discern connections between my energy patterns and how, when, and what I ate. I watched my body grow stronger and more vital by the day. It was an incredible experience.

Anyone who has ever discovered the power of nutrition as a healing tool can probably relate to what I’m describing here. It’s a wonderful thing to watch chronic health complaints shift and change in the face of a nourishing diet. Recognizing the power of quality nutrition was (initially, anyway), what drove me to study nutrition and begin my counseling practice, and to this day it’s an immense joy when a client or reader tells me about health improvements that have been brought on by eating wholesomely.

There is a potential dark side of becoming more attuned to the connections between nutrition and health, however, and this is a tendency to start assuming that virtually every ache, pain, sniffle, and sneeze can be controlled through food. It’s the assumption that there is such a thing as “perfect” health, and that this state of nirvana can be attained if one only eats precisely the right things.

This is an assumption I’ve written about before, and I think it’s problematic for a few reasons. Most immediately, I think this kind of thinking can fuel orthorexic tendencies, which seem to be more and more common in the health/wellness world these days. Second, and more importantly, it’s misleading: while we have ample evidence that diet can and does help to prevent, cure, or mitigate many different health conditions, there’s no evidence to suggest that diet can make us 100% “disease proof.” Some health conditions really are mediated by genetics, by chance, or by the microbes we share our air and water and space with. Healthful food may soften their effects or help us to heal from them faster, but it may not successfully prevent or cure them.

The belief that we can prevent any and all health conditions through diet can lead to a lot of unfair assumptions about illness and why it happens, and–in some cases–the assignment of blame to those who get sick. It can also compel us to question ourselves or blame ourselves when we happen to cross paths with illness. This is what I find most troubling about the tendency to overstate the impact of diet on health, and it has been on my mind this week for a couple of reasons. To start, my friend Susan wrote a wonderful, thoughtful post about her breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. I am so impressed by Susan’s grace in the face of her unexpected diagnosis. And I’m glad she spoke out about it, not only because I’m sure her words will be comforting to other women who are going through the same thing, but also because it takes a lot of guts for a health and wellness advocate to write about his or her own health crisis. A large portion of Susan’s post is dedicated not to telling the story of her diagnosis and treatment, but rather to explaining why she didn’t write about it sooner. She was afraid that her decision to pursue “mainstream” treatment would be criticized, which would only have been an additional stress. In the wake of her diagnosis, Susan felt tremendous unease with certain wellness advocates who sell plant-based diet as a panacea. I think the conclusions she reached are incredibly wise. In her post, she asks:

“Is there a way to promote a plant-based diet that doesn’t point the finger of blame, that doesn’t make grand promises of health, and that doesn’t make people like me feel so confident in the invincibility of our diets that we put off mammograms or other screening tests?

I don’t know. But for me, it’s been helpful to think of the vegan diet as promoting health, but not providing a “Get out of Disease Free” card.”

As I was reading Susan’s post, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how furious I felt a few years ago, when I attended a DC area conference called “Take Back Your Health.” Speakers included Joel Fuhrman, Sally Fallon, and Andrea Beaman, and the overall message was clear: if you’re sick, then poor lifestyle is the cause. If you want to get well, change your diet. I appreciated that the intention of the conference was to empower people, to educate them about the ways in which food can promote healing. But I was shocked to hear Andrea Beaman (who had spent the better part of her portion putting down any and all forms of mainstream medicine, insisting that the body can always heal itself), declare that, in many cases, “cancer is an idea.” I was working in pediatric oncology that month, and the perception of cancer presented at that conference–as a scourge of modern lifestyle, or a punishment for years of poor diet–was so dramatically at odds with the realities I’d observed working with cancer patients. Not to mention my own experiences watching a close family member undergo chemotherapy and radiation.

Of course, I understand where the impulse to assign blame for illness comes from. I’ve been woefully prone to do it myself. Back at the start of my vegan journey, when I was experiencing all of the improvements I mentioned at the start of this post, I started to become incredibly judgmental about health and disease. This attitude was only intensified when I got into raw food; I began to see every ailment as a sign of “toxicity,” of unclean foods and a dearth of green juice. Even after I’d successfully rid myself of the “detox” nonsense, I remained all too certain that any and all health complaints must have been brought on by errant food choices. And I think that, for a while, I was also overly certain that “clean eating” is a bulletproof shield against any and all disease.

My post-bacc education changed all of this. I spent two years working in oncology, and another two years working under a gastroenterologist. The former experience was more than ample proof that cancer is not exclusively a “lifestyle” disease that can be prevented with broccoli, onions, or flaxseeds; its genesis is so much more complex and (unfortunately) unpredictable than that. The latter experience–working with Robynne–showed me that it’s possible to adopt literally every sort of mindful eating practice there is, and to still suffer from GI complaints. This was a particularly important lesson for me; until that point, I tended to scrutinize every IBS flare up as a sure sign that I must have taken a wrong turn with food. I didn’t spend enough time considering other factors that bring on IBS: motility problems, visceral hypersensitivity, hormones, and stress. Like so many GI patients, my tendency was always to assign blame to myself.

And that’s the other reason all of this is on my mind. Every week, I see nutrition clients who are desperately trying to scrutinize their diets for mistakes in the hopes of resolving a health complaint: a patch of rosacea, a seasonal allergy, a bout of bloating. Sometimes their impulse–to look for trigger foods or unhealthy patterns–is smart, and when we put our heads together we’re able to find answers. But sometimes it is needlessly flagellating, more stressful than productive. In these cases, the real “work” for me as a nutritionist is not to prescribe certain medicinal foods or ban other, irritating ones. The work is to help my client understand that we cannot control our health 100% through food.

I don’t mean for this conclusion to feel disempowering or defeatist. Even in situations where lifestyle is not a direct cause or solution for a health condition, it’s often the case that nutrition can serve as a tool or an aid in the healing process. Nutrient dense foods help to strengthen immunity, enhance mood and energy, and help to fight inflammation; these effects are helpful for all of us, no matter where we are with our health. And in the face of an illness that seems unresponsive to dietary change, being mindful of wholesome nutrition can still have a preventive effect against other health conditions. Diet may not be a silver bullet solution to everything, but it’s always worthwhile to pay attention to the quality of what we eat.

In the end, though, I think we need to take Susan’s words to heart: “Is there a way to promote a plant-based diet that doesn’t point the finger of blame?” I look back on how smug I used to feel about my pristine diet (and the halo of perfect health I thought it had give me), and I can only shake my head. The plant-based community is full of inspiring, passionate individuals who are committed to sharing what they’ve learned about health, but I think it’s important for us all to remain respectful of each other’s dietary choices, health care choices, and so on. More importantly, I think we need to remain humble in the face of the great, mysterious phenomenon of human health and its workings. Rather than pointing fingers when someone gets sick, or assuming privately that he or she must have done something “wrong,” I think we need to rally around each other, and realize that it could always be any of us.

Back in spring of 2013, I started to feel my IBS, which had been very well managed for years, creeping back. At first it felt like my customary constellation of symptoms (bloating, cramping, irregularity), but it soon shifted into persistent loose bowels. For a moment, I thought my IBS-C had flipped over to IBS-D (this can happen), but on some level I knew that what I experiencing wasn’t my usual IBS. It felt different–angrier, more aggressive, and more chronic. My energy was alright and I had no other symptoms, but the GI distress became increasingly unmanageable. By mid-summer I was spending the better part of most mornings in the bathrooms, and things were so bad that I developed a fissure.

Finally–much later than I should have–I reached out to the doctor I worked for, who did screenings for parasites, IBD, and a few other things. In the end, her instinct, which was that I’d come down with something infectious, was right, and a strong antibiotic/antiprotozoal set me on the path to feeling like myself again. But in the months before she prescribed the drug, I drove myself half crazy wondering if I’d done something to cause all of the GI symptoms. Had I suddenly developed a food allergy? Was I eating the wrong things? Drinking too much coffee? The answer to that last question was yes, and I was also reeling from 3 years of accumulated post-bacc stress and sleep deprivation. But those weren’t the root cause of the problem. I wish I’d reached out to Robynne before I did, because in the time I spent worrying about whether or not I was doing something “wrong,” I could have sooner gotten the treatment that really helped me.

Obviously, I didn’t write about this experience at the time. The main reason was that I was already feeling so vulnerable with the post-bacc/med school process; I didn’t want to acknowledge how poorly I felt to myself, let alone open up about it publicly. But I think a part of me was also afraid of commentary or judgment. By the time I got better, I was so relieved to be feeling like myself again that I didn’t want to focus on what had happened.

But I’m glad that I’m mentioning it now. Certainly it’s not the kind of health crisis that Susan has so bravely written about, but it’s worth sharing with you guys, because I know how many of my readers (and clients) have GI struggles. When you blog about nutrition/wellness, it can be very scary–shameful, even–to come clean about illness or chronic health complaints. There’s plenty of pressure to seem (and be) perfectly energetic, clear-eyed, glowy-skinned, bloat-free, and effortlessly healthy. This is an utterly unrealistic ideal, and I think it does more harm than good. Let’s all start talking about what real health and wellness looks like. Real health and wellness does not mean perfection. It does not exclude occasional or chronic health struggles. Real health and wellness is a commitment to self-care, embodied in conscious (but not obsessive) food choices and whatever other lifestyle practices help you to thrive. And it also means accepting that, just as we cannot control our bodies or our appetites, we can’t control our health, either.

It’s appropriate that I’m writing about all of this tonight, because my friend Kathy happens to have written a beautiful post about her own health story today. In it, she’s using the hashtag #wellnessgetsreal, which I think is great. I hope that all of us who write about, talk about, and care about health and wellness can be inspired by Kathy’s story, and by Susan’s; I hope we can remind ourselves that, just as we don’t have to have “perfect” bodies or “perfect” eating habits, we also don’t have to have “perfect” health. We simply need to do all we can to take care of ourselves: bodies, minds, and spirits.

Thanks to Kathy and Susan for inspiring me today. Hope this one resonates with you all.


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Categories: Food and Healing

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  1. Hi Gena, thank you so much for this insightful post. It caused me to reflect on my endless search for foods to eliminate to improve my IBS symptoms. Over the past 2.5 years I eliminated a plethora of foods without identifying the food that “must” cause my daily symptoms. While I’m grateful that this led me to veganism, it upset me and discouraged me every time I read a post, article, or book by a plant based doctor or patient who insisted the cleanest vegan diet had instantly improved his/her symptoms and allowed her to resume her life symptom free. I could not understand why my body did not respond similarly, even thought I understand the complexity of our bodies and of chronic conditions. I even felt guilty when I thought about pursuing more traditional medicine. I feel less disheartened after reading your post. I will definitely spend more time reflecting non-food related causes and I hope it will manage this compulsion to keep searching for or eliminating foods that may not exist in order to alleviate my symptoms.

  2. hey gena,
    can i ask what the antibiotic you took after your flare up? your symptoms sound just like what i’ve been experiencing these past few months. thanks for being so honest on here!

  3. Posts like these are one of the reasons I love your blog. Your approach to tough issues is so thoughtful, reasonable and, dare I say it, healthy. Thanks for being an eloquent advocate of self care and compassion for all.

  4. What a wonderful post and an excellent reminder! I too get into the habit of thinking that I can create a perfectly healthy me via my diet and in the process drive myself crazy analyzing everything I eat and how it affects me. Thank you for reminding me that nutrition is important but it isn’t a cure for all of life’s ailments.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this post, Gena! This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot too. I had a huge health crisis at the beginning of year, and while I did blog about it a little, I kept the seriousness of it to myself because I didn’t want to deal with the comments, blame, and unsolicited advice that would have come with really sharing what was going on.

    As a health coach, I often see clients who are frustrated that their vegan diets haven’t acted like a magic pill to cure everything that ails them, and they blame themselves for not getting better. While I do believe that a vegan diet can help a lot of people, the belief that it can cure any disease can also hurt people.

  6. This is such a great post and I think so important to start these types of conversations. The question about the finger of blame is an important one…when someone is struggling with their health, that blame in itself is an unhealthy addition. I think it’s so significant to realize that a vegan diet is that the end all to good health, it may be a great start, but there are still other components and everyone may take a different approach to those components, depending on their needs.

  7. Thank you Gena. Your honesty and willingness to challenge the status quo among the wellness community, in this post but also throughout your site and in your book, is so refreshing. Like other readers I’ve experienced the guilt and shame of becoming ill (in my case, with chronic joint pain despite years of distance running, yoga and plant-based eating) and the consequences of viewing medical treatment as a last resort and a sign of defeat. This is a serious issue even for those of whose commitment to veganism originated in ethical concerns (especially since these concerns make Western medicine and pharmaceuticals even less appealing), and I applaud you for creating a safe place to discuss this.

  8. Wow. Just wow Gena. This is so what I needed to read right now (I actually feel like that much of the time when you write a post). I’ve been seriously guilting myself for eating crappier for the past while and blaming how my thyroid function has diminished because of it, when in fact, I have no thyroid and I can’t cure that through food.
    “I don’t mean for this conclusion to feel disempowering or defeatist.”
    You didn’t, it’s having the opposite affect on me, it’s making me feel better about things.
    This is a perfect post. I love it.
    Thank you =)

  9. Loved this post Gena. I feel frustrated all the time that my vegan diet hasn’t changed any of my annoying health issues for the better, hearing all these stories about how plant-based diets make you “disease-proof” is so frustrating and I think sets people like me up for disappointment when they don’t deliver. Personally, I can remind myself that’s not why I went vegan in the first place and that’s enough for me, but for others it can leave a bitter taste in their mouth and ultimately do more harm than good for the “cause”. I’ve enjoyed reading about your journey over the years and your evolving views on health, diet, and medicine. I’m really enjoying where you’re at now 🙂

  10. I loved this post Gena. As you know, this is very applicable for me. I’m notorious for believing you can ‘heal’ everything with diet (probably due to my ED background), and always find myself shunning medical treatment as much as possible.

    Loved your honest too 🙂

  11. Hi Gena! What a thoughtful post on an incredibly important topic. Last year, I had a similar thought process about perfect health, but it had to do more with exercise. A student in one of my classes gave a presentation about running, and said that he never gets sick because he runs a tremendous amount every day. While I now that that is actually pretty unhealthy, I think that the wrong messages are spread throughout media, everywhere. I even sometimes read blogs by dietitians who promote ideas about perfect health and very high exercise levels, which upset me a lot as someone who is trying to mentally recover from an ED. We have to get our information from experts/professionals to even find out that most messages promoted are just so wrong and misinformed, even highly triggering to those recovering and prone to EDs alike. Thank you for your expertise on this topic, and for shedding some light on the scientific truth about health! 🙂

  12. You are amazing, Gena. Thank you for sharing this. I think #wellnessgetsreal is the perfect hashtag to start a new wellness revolution among the health blogging community (and elsewhere). xo

  13. I’ve been reading your blog for a year or so and just bought your book. But this is the first time I’ve commented. Thanks so much for this great post. My diet is mostly vegan, something which I’ve been slowly transitioning to over the last two years. I’ve been feeling great….but I’ve also caught myself falling into that trap of feeling like diet can cure all that ails us. Thanks for this reality check and balanced approach!!

  14. Excellent post, Gena–Bravo!! A healthy way of eating is a huge ally through the twists and turns of life, but even so, not a sure fire way to eliminate them. This is a truth I’ve tried to illustrat in the writing of stories on my own blog, and I’m glad to read your words about it here. Bless you.

  15. Thank you so much, Gena! This rings so true and is such an important message for the alternative health community. This very issue has been on my mind of late, as this is an issue I have struggled with myself. I think it is comforting to attach to an idea that claims to secure a certain fate. I lost a dear friend to cancer five years ago. He ate a plant-based, macrobiotic diet for most of his adult life and died at 56. While tragic and confusing, he taught me an important lesson… We are truly not in control. I am trying to do my best and surrender the rest. Thank you again for this important, timely article.

  16. Gena – an eloquent, beautifully written post, as always, As a enthusiastic advocate for veganism who also happens to be an MD – I’m a resident in Internal Medicine – I wholeheartedly agree with you.

    Diet and lifestyle are hugely important in overall health and wellness, and can often do wonders to alleviate symptoms, especially of chronic, incompletely-understood conditions such as IBS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc. I’m the first to encourage my patients to exercise, eat more plants, do yoga, meditate. BUT – and this is a big but – I have a huge problem with the shockingly ignorant opinion of a small but vocal minority of nutrition “experts” (as you mentioned in your post) that all disease is attributable to poor lifestyle choices. Have they ever actually been in a hospital?? You really mean to tell me that the eight-year old with cystic fibrosis, the twenty-three year old with a brain tumor, the seventy-year old with urinary sepsis – they all got sick because they didn’t eat enough kale???? Give me a break.

    • That is very well said, I think of such claims from “experts” as being rather elitist. Health is so complicated that pinpointing to one thing, such as diet or exercise, is making a very naive and silly practice.

  17. I appreciate this post so much (as usual)! I remember bragging for months about how, after completing my first CLEAN Program cleanse, that I never got sick anymore. I cut out all the “toxic” stuff and thus lived a pain-free, cold-free, flu-free life….

    And then I got sick. It was a standard cold, but I was completely horrified that I had somehow failed. It *must* have been the fact that I had wine at the party. It *must* have been that I “let” myself have gluten one night. Etcetera. Just as you described, I thought I could up my green juice and be more disciplined, and all would be well.

    When my then-partner’s mom’s cancer got significantly worse I remember asking him if she had done any reading about green juice treatments. He gave me a look that cut me to my core. I don’t even remember his exact response, just the look of, “Please please Raechel do not try to bring your detox cleanse talk into this situation with my dying mother right now.” I dropped it. She passed away a month later (and no amount of green juice would have prevented that, I’m sure).

    I am in a much better place with not fearing food for “poisoning” me anymore, but it is a hard mentality to break. I’m going to book mark this post for times I start to feel holier than thou about my diet.

    The other thing I’d add is that this whole process becomes a neoliberal tool that puts the onus on the individual to “pull themselves up by their [healthy, vegan, free-range, organic] bootstraps” in order to be well. It ignores the structural barriers people have to “optimal” (subjective, to be sure) eating. The desire to blame the individual for failure is such a prominent feature of our culture (which is a product of our economic system; thanks capitalism!), it’s no wonder it manifests this way in the healthy living sphere.

    Thank you for your thoughts, as always.

  18. The timing of this post has been so apt for me, Gena. Reading it, I realized something I’ve been doing with increasing frequency of late: blaming myself through my dietary choices for every physical complaint I have. If I wake up with a headache, I immediately wrack my brain for the potential culprit from the previous evening’s food and drink consumption. If I have a poor sleep, same thing. I have a lot of digestive distress, despite having eliminated most dairy (the food group to which I am most sensitive, according to tests) from my diet, and I often have dry skin — and when evaluating the possible causes of all these issues, the first place I usually point the finger of blame is myself and my diet despite the fact that my health history suggests there may indeed be underlying causes that are unrelated to what I eat. This epiphany, prompted by reading your post, dovetails beautifully with the reading I’m beginning on self-compassion. I think it is high time I took some of the pressure off myself and sought medical advice for some of the legitimate physical concerns I am experiencing rather than continuing to hold myself completely responsible for any ailment I experience. Thanks as always for your thoughtful, concise, and compassionate exploration of this topic.

  19. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of not judging others on their food choices. Instead, I will focus on how grateful I am for my own health. Even though a vegan diet has given me freedom from my ED, and I feel incredibly healthy, I realize that there is not a one size fits all when it comes to personal wellness. I continue to be inspired by your thinking and grateful for your honesty.

  20. I so appreciate this post. Being a committed plant-based vegan for over three years now, I’ve seen the wonders that the lifestyle has done for my full recovery from an eating disorder. I’m quick to “preach” the lifestyle because I LOVE it — eating this easy has provided a foundation and relationship to food and health that I desperately needed. But I’ve noticed two things: 1) I thought (not particularly consciously but definitely the thought was there) that I would somehow heal my 13+ year hypothyroidism. While I know my thyroid is assisted by this lifestyle, I’ve come to terms with the fact that this way of eating is not a cure, and certainly not the overnight cure that I was secretly hoping for. 2) I’ve witnessed too many friends still fighting their eating disorders that have completely clung to the separate-but related yoga, non-GMO and raw food trains…. without encouraging others that this lifestyle is about a balance and longterm health, it is all too easy to get caught up in the extremes, and that’s the same whether you’re eating quinoa and veggies or eggs with a side of protein powder. I would hate to see this way of eating, one that has helped me so much, be mistook for another quick fix, extremist diet — or privileged diet — or cure-all. The truth is eating this way is only the beginning. I don’t comment often, Gena, but I check-in weekly and 100% support what you’re putting out there. Thank you!!

  21. Gena thank you so much for this post, it’s something that really winds me up and your contribution, as well as the thoughts in the comments, come at the issue in such an important and rarely discussed way. thanks again h x
    (also I appreciate the acknowledgement that going vegan didn’t “cure” your anorexia, that it was predominatly the eating more that helped and that the veganism allowed you to allow yourself to eat more, i so often feel frustrated with myself that i have been vegan for 5 years and i’m still not better)

  22. Great post. I find it so interesting that in this day and age, admitting that you can’t control everything, including your own health, will be considered a “disempowering or defeatist” attitude by some. So good for you for stepping up and admitting the truth – we are not as in control as we like to think we are.

    Chaos abounds, whether we like it or not. We do the best we can – to achieve health, or whatever else – hopefully without going overboard. But at the end of the day, none of us are owed anything and nothing is guaranteed. Those folks at that creepy “Take Back Your Health” conference are in for a rude awakening, which is called life.

  23. I work in Surgical Oncology doing GI research and this post is just refreshing. I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach to diet but I do agree with you wholly in this: ‘Nutrient dense foods help to strengthen immunity, enhance mood and energy, and help to fight inflammation; these effects are helpful for all of us, no matter where we are with our health.’

    One of my favorite musicians (Moz) just came out about a cancer diagnosis and I think part of his reluctance to share aside from his extreme privacy was that he has been plant based for nearly his entire life and that this did not make him immune. There is no perfect diet for immortality and after all, sometimes we forget that we are indeed human.

  24. Thank you for sharing my blogpost link Gena! And I am so glad you are better from your GI debacle. Digestion problems are the worst. Especially for vegans who love, and gain their nutrients, from eating high fiber foods and lots of them. I would love to hear you talk more about how sometimes vegans may eat TOO much fiber, or your thoughts on that, all those dry seeds and nuts, tough greens etc. But that is another topic..

    I LOVE when you write about this topic. So interesting to ponder.

    What especially resonated with me was the part about blame and cancer (or any illness for that matter). That inevitable feeling of “what did I do wrong?” or “What did I eat wrong?” It is a feeling of being deceived by your own thoughts and good intentions.

    Short story, when my cat was diagnosed with an untreatable cancer last year I immediately became obsessed with worrying that she got her cancer from a specific brand of food I may have been feeding. I threw away all the leftover cans and obsessively scoured the internet for answers on what foods could cure the disease. I spent hoards of money on cures, all alternative medicine and food based. Many of which carried claims that they could shrink cancer cells etc. I bought green powders, special pills, fed only certain brands and was basically a crazy person about it. And when the cancer finally took her life I blamed myself. It had to be something I had been feeding her all those years, right? (Even though, for the record, I was feeding high quality brands. I know cat food can be a lot more carcinogenic than people food.)

    But my point is, I can see how this same pattern of excruciating blame could happen in humans.

    I have come to accept that the cancer was not my fault. And more likely than not, it was not the food but rather genes and possible ties to her diabetes that sparked the cancer, although I admit it hurts to not know the exact cause. But the facts are that many cats that eat the lowest quality food possible will live long and healthy lives. Food is not a unbreakable shield or a certain doom weapon.

    The sad part is that DIET is one thing we have control over, so in the end, it, as you said Gena, can feed us (no pun intended) a lot of guilt and blame when things go wrong.

    Anyways, love this, love you. xo

  25. Beautifully written. We can only do our best to stay healthy and eating in the most nutritional way that we are able to will help. It doesn’t guarantee illness won’t come our way. I’m making granola right now!!!

  26. Oh, this post means so much to me, Gena. I am so happy you wrote it. For me, veganism has never delivered the wonderful health transformations, and it actually made my acne and IBS worse (until I discovered the low FODMAP diet). At first that made me second guess everything about what I was eating, and try absolutely everything to troubleshoot. I spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on appointments and treatments. After I realised that it was the FODMAPs (and of course other things too, but that made a massive difference), I actually got angry. Angry that veganism tries to sell health utopia, when that’s not what it’s about. I also got angry about the fact that most diets/lifestyles these days (veganism, low carb, paleo, etc.) focus so much on “optimal health”, and how we need to always eat nutrient dense foods, even advising particular foods we MUST eat on a regular basis. That’s great, for people who aren’t prone to food anxiety and perfectionism (I guess), but I had a revelation one day…why do I think that I need to be on a quest for optimal health? That’s not why I went vegan. And it’s also not a great way to live all of the time. I love living a healthy lifestyle, but the stress, anxiety, and false sense of control that arises from a quest for optimal health is simply not worth it. Most people just want to be healthy and happy, and that’s enough. And most people – until someone tells them otherwise – don’t blame themselves for cancer. That isn’t normal, and it isn’t healthy.

    I could rant on this for ages, but I’ll stop now. A great post, Gena.

    • I LOVE everything about your comment, especially this part: “I love living a healthy lifestyle, but the stress, anxiety, and false sense of control that arises from a quest for optimal health is simply not worth it. Most people just want to be healthy and happy, and that’s enough.” Amen!

  27. yes. i’m totally with you. this idea is so important to mind, always, because it’s too easy to attribute all the temporal facets of health + wellness (or unwellness) directly to diet. nuance, here and probably in any case, is so important. thank you for the reminder.

  28. Yes yes yes! Agree 100%

    Thanks for this. It’s so important for health care workers to get that fine balance that nutrition is so so important, but of course, not the only factor at play. It’s a really important point, and one I haven’t seen explored as well as you have here. I so relate to the feeling of dissecting our food choices and putting blame on ourselves for every ailment. But sometimes humans just don’t feel well, or sometimes they do get sick and it’s not always in out control. Accepting that we are out of control is a tough one. But that’s another point. Stress is just as harmful if not more so than an unhealthy diet, so let’s not make obsession over a good diet to be the source of our stress.

  29. Very nice, honest, well written, and brave post. Thank you..
    Have you ever read “Dying to Be Me?” An interesting read but I disagree so much about it. One idea of which, again, is the thought (insistence) that “cancer is an idea”… It’s worth the read. A very interesting insight despite my rejection.

  30. Gena,

    I am beyond thankful for this post and all of your thoughtful and thought provoking posts. I can related to so much in this post, as I’m sure many can, and I can’t wait to write you more one day about how your writing, among many things, have been a big part of wonderful healing in my life.

    Continue with your excellent work. You are a true professional with a clear heart and passion for helping others.

    Thank you, Stacy

  31. Thanks for this post. I have just started adding essential oils to my wellness plan and while I think they have already helped keep me healthier; I still believe that there is no magic bullet in any food, oil, supplement or tonic. As a paramedic, I am a firm believer in emergency medicine but once the emergency is over, I also believe that one should look to diet and exercise to fix the root problem.
    I also believe that the healthier you are, the shorter and less intense your symptoms will be for most things. We will all get sick, but if we are healthy to begin with, we stand a much better chance at getting better, faster.
    I also believe that mental health plays a large role in physical health and attitude is a part of that.
    Thanks for a great post. Stay safe, Cynthia

  32. Thanks Gena! I just needed this today after a week of iBS pains, and even throwing away food which I suddenly suspected to be bad for me, stressing about what in the world I could eat without the risk of cramps. Well, nothing of course because IBS does what it wants sometimes. Often.. Thanks!! I will remind myself of these wise words of you when I stress too much about (healthy) food again!

  33. Thank you so much, Gena, for writing this post. Your blog, and particularly your Green Recovery Series, gave me the courage to open up to my (now) husband and to a therapist about my long time struggle with an ED. This year I was also diagnosed with Lupus. I truly believe that my plant based diet plays a very important role in helping me feel my best, however, recently my Lupus symptoms have flared. I have spent so much time beating myself up over this flare up, mainly believing that I could be eating more healthfully. I almost felt guilty that my plant based diet, which so many people advocate as the cure-all to disease, was not keeping my symptoms at bay; because I must be doing something wrong. Eventually I started to realize that the stress I was imposing on myself to find the perfect balance of vegetables, carbs, healthy fats, etc. was definitely making me feel worse than anything in my diet could. Then I read Susan’s post that you mentioned, and now yours and they both have lifted a weight off of my shoulders and helped me ease up on myself. It is always nice to know you are not alone, so thank you for not only this post but your blog and everything you do!

  34. Gena, thank you so much for this post. Even though my Crohn’s Disease is in remission and well-managed, there are still times when my health isn’t “perfect” and I beat myself up over it. No one’s health is perfect 100% of the time – thank you for that reminder. And I’m SO glad you’re continuing to feel better (and I hope that that continues!)

  35. I have been blinded by the power of changing my diet as well. I went from migraines, headaches, sinus infections, stomach cramps, and prolonged illnesses to none of these things after giving up dairy. It took about 3 years to see my body finally “heal” itself, but it is AMAZING the differences I have seen and felt. That being said, life is a balance. And here’s how I feel about it all. Yes, most Americans need to eat more plant based food to feel better. No, western medicine is not the answer to every single ailment that exists. But every person is different. We all need different things. There is no “perfect” diet and no “perfect” exercise routine for every one. It’s been particularly hard for me to watch people around me struggle when I feel like I’ve found the answer! But we need to struggle to grow, and my answer is not everyone’s answer. Beautiful post!

  36. Thank you so much for publishing this post! It is so relevant. I am a dietetics student, and in my second year of college (2 years ago) I began developing several GI issues, which we have narrowed down to IBS and celiac disease. There is such frustration when I believe I am doing everything I “should” with my diet, and then end up dealing with experiences similar to the one you yourself described. It is very encouraging to have recognition of the stigma attached to individuals that promote health and wellness that personally deal with their own health issues. It seems, however, that so many people promote health because they were faced with a health issue! They should be applauded, not criticized. For myself, a separate health experience drove me to veganism, and I had a similar joyous experience that you did, but I too had a judgmental phase. Lastly, I appreciate that you addressed the “blame game” with people getting sick solely because of their own choices; this is so far from the truth, and expressing this understanding is key to my future profession. Thanks, Gena!