I had the chance to chat with T.J., who has created an amazing online community for those with vitiligo. Like me, T.J (aka the vitiligo girl) was able to cure a lot of her vitiligo by changing her diet and lifestyle. Now, she runs a site where she documents her own journey and brings together various individuals who have been able to cure their vitiligo using non-traditional methods. You can see some of the pigment that has come back to spots on her shins! There are even more impressive before and after photos up on her site (my measly computer can’t hold them all) so I definitely recommend you check her out. And without further ado, meet the Vitiligo Girl!
Tell me more about your blog. What inspired you to start it?
Initially, my blog started out as my own special place where I could talk openly about my vitiligo and document my journey to stop and reverse my vitiligo-for my own benefit as well as for others. I found it therapeutic to share with others what I had learned through the things I was reading, which was anything and everything about autoimmune disease and why the body begins to attack itself. I quickly realized, though that I could do something more with my blog.
When I was first diagnosed with vitiligo three years ago, I desperately needed hope and reassurance from others who had overcome their vitiligo-I wanted to hear that I, too could heal. However, I wasn’t able to find very many personal experiences. Besides yours, there was Caroline’s over at TheVitPro.com, Dr. Wanakee Hill’s in her book, and the free online book, Emily’s Vitiligo. That’s it.
I knew that there were likely hundreds, if not thousands of other people just like me who were searching for answers. It was then that I decided that I wanted my blog to be an inspiring and comforting place where all of those people could go and ease their fears. I felt it was important that my blog be a place that would help reduce that terrible stress we all feel about our vitiligo by showing that it isn’t the hopeless condition many doctors would have us believe it is-because as we know, stressing about it can make it worse!
The blog has now grown into a little community where I’ve gathered and continue to gather the experiences and success stories of others with vitiligo as well.
How long have you had vitiligo? When did it start?
I was first diagnosed with vitiligo about a year after I had my son, so I’ve had it for about 3 years now. I was horrified to say the least. It is incredibly distressing to watch your skin color disappear before your very eyes. It’s indescribable, really.
I got my first spot on my left thumb after I had been taking my son for swimming lessons at the city pool. I have always felt that the swimming pool had something to do with my vitiligo starting, but I could never pinpoint the exact trigger. Was it the chlorine? The sun? Fungus? All of the above? The swimming pool was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I scoured the internet night and day looking for answers. I bought books on Amazon, purchased every eBook online I came across, and checked out books at the library.
I read the experience you have on your blog about overcoming your vitiligo over, and over, and over again to reassure myself and try to find commonalities that would allow me to gain some sort of insight into myself.
What do you think caused your vitiligo?
Looking back over the last 10 years, I’ve realized the tremendous amount of stress I had/have been under.
I believe that I became especially nutritionally depleted after a series of both physical and emotional traumas that ultimately set me up for developing vitiligo.
I had been in a bad car accident and subsequently diagnosed with fibromyalgia a couple of years later. Fast forward a few years later to a happy marriage, but severe financial struggles, a miscarriage, and then a physically stressful and difficult pregnancy that caused me to develop sacro-iliac dysfunction. Caring for my son (who never slept) and nursing him for two years further depleted whatever little nutritional reserves I had left.
By the time my son was a year old, I was struggling to make it through the day due to my severe exhaustion. My complexion was gray, I was very thin, my blood pressure was extremely low, I was cold all the time, and I had terrible dizzy spells when I would get out of bed in the morning. I had developed severe adrenal fatigue, and my thyroid was suffering as well.
What do you believe has helped the most with vitiligo?
#1 of course has been stress reduction.
But I’ve learned something very interesting about stress through my Nutritional Balancing program, and that is that stress can be from both internal and external sources.
Usually we tend to only think of stress in terms of being external, as in our jobs, relationships, emotional trauma, etc. But we don’t really think of the daily internal stress we put on our bodies. The wrong diet, or an unhealthy one that is high in refined carbs, sugar, processed foods, and that is nutritionally deficient puts a tremendous amount of stress on the body. Add to that toxic exposure from the air we breathe, the pesticides we eat on non-organic fruits and vegetables, and the medicines we take. These things clog our livers and ruin our digestive tracts.
As for external stress, it’s impossible to eliminate it completely since it’s a part of this life that we live. However, many times we can be the cause of our own stress to a certain degree. I found this to be true of myself. I had to change the form of exercise I was doing, change my thinking, and change the way that I do things, which included getting more organized and minimizing as much clutter in my house as possible…which is still a work in progress with a four year old running around ☺.
We can also change the way that we respond to upsetting situations. I know you mentioned in your interview on my blog that meditation helped you. For me it’s my shower that I turned into a near infrared sauna. Walking is also a wonderful stress reducer as well.
What advice would you give to readers with vitiligo?
I agree 100% with you when you say that stress reduction is probably the most important thing when it comes to vitiligo. Stress depletes us nutritionally which ultimately causes a breakdown in bodily functions, and can contribute to the development of autoimmune disease.
Once I understood this, vitiligo wasn’t nearly as scary and there wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t absolutely sure that I would overcome it. In my mind, it was just a matter of time. As a result I was able to relax and figure out an effective plan of attack against my vitiligo.
Another thing I would like to mention is that no regular doctor/MD is going to tell you anything positive about vitiligo, so don’t feel down-hearted when you hear over and over again that there is nothing you can do about it. Ignore nay-sayers and well-meaning family members who tell you to just accept it and live with it. You don’t have to. Have an open mind and realize that there are effective, alternative ways to deal with vitiligo.
I personally don’t feel that there will ever be a cure for vitiligo that works for everyone–not because I am not hopeful-but because there is simply no way to prevent stress and its effect on our bodies, not to mention the fact that each of us responds to stress differently. Lifestyles must be changed, and body systems and functions must be repaired and corrected before any healing can take place. And the reality is that most people don’t have any interest in taking the time to do this. They’d much rather just pop a pill and be healed. Vitiligo is much too complex for that.
I realized early on that I needed to be aggressive and take control of my health, not just the vitiligo. Sure, I desperately wanted it to stop spreading. But the more I focused on how fast it was spreading, the more anxious I became. It helped me to just simply focus on getting healthy-because really the vitiligo was a clue of a much bigger issue that was looming. My health had not yet deteriorated to such a degree that I couldn’t fix it, although it was headed in that direction. I didn’t have cancer, I didn’t have Lupus (yet)…I still had time to fix myself. It’s still a work in progress, but my vitiligo has stopped spreading and I am getting lots of new freckles with (almost) daily sun exposure.
I know that were it not for my vitiligo, I would never have made significant changes in my lifestyle and embarked on such a healthy journey, and so for me, my vitiligo has been a blessing in disguise.
I’ve tried a number of cleanses—juice cleanse, fruit fast, and I think I may have once fooled around with one of those cayenne pepper cleanses—and let me tell you, not all are created equal! While the right cleanse may give your body a true break from digestion, allowing it to heal itself, a bad cleanse can poison your body from the inside out. Fortunately for you, I’ve tested a bunch of these out on my own body to give you the real scoop on how these programs affect our health. Hopefully you can learn from my experiences—and mistakes…
Juice Fasting (Blueprint, Organic Ave., homemade, etc.)
I know there are some people who swear by juice cleanses, but I am not one of them. While the idea of having vitamins and nutrients go straight into your bloodstream is nice, that also means there’s a ton of fruit sugar going straight to your blood stream, giving you a sugar high followed by a crash. In addition, there is little to no fiber in a juice fast. So even if you’re waking up toxins in your system, there’s no way to “cleanse” them out. Supposedly, these toxins instead resurface, making you feel even sicker than you were to begin with unless you take laxatives or colonics to force them out. When I went on a juice fast, I felt horrible after 3 days. I constantly felt nauseous and dizzy. Even once I decided to stop fasting, it took awhile for the nausea to go away. I don’t see how anyone could benefit from this fast, unless they want to spend a ton of money on colonics or OD on laxatives. No thanks.
I recently tried the 80-10-10 method, where 80% of your calories comes from fruits, 10% from leafy greens, and 10% from nuts and seeds. I learned about this diet off of a website called fullyraw, whose founder has been able to reverse her hypoglycemia by following the method. Clearly, the 80-10-10 method works for her, so I thought I should try it. While it was GREAT for cleansing (be ready to go to the bathroom frequently!) I was worried when I saw an old white vitiligo spot resurface on my hand—something that I haven’t seen since going wheat-free. I did some research and found some sources saying that the absorbic acid in certain fruits (oranges, pears, grapefruits, grapes, and even lemons) have been linked to decreased melanin production, so perhaps that could have been the cause–I was eating a ton of pears. But who knows, maybe other factors could have affected the depigmentation–stress, lack of sleep, etc. I might try it again another time, taking out pears and citrus fruits.
The Clean Program
This one is the winner. I am currently doing it for a second time since I love it so much—stay tuned for details! It’s a program developed by physician Alejandro Junger that progresses in three stages. The first stage, called the elimination diet, removes wheat, dairy, added sugar, red meat (which I believe is beneficial to do anyway) certain fruits such as bananas, grapes, grapefruits, oranges, and nightshade vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. The healthier eaters stay on the elimination diet for a couple of days, whereas others may need to stay on it for a week or more. The second stage is the actual cleanse, where breakfast and dinner is a liquid meal (either a smoothie or a soup) and lunch is a meal from the elimination diet. The official program comes with an expensive kit and packets, but the book says that you can benefit from the cleanse without the kit, which I am doing. This diet allows just enough fiber to keep things moving while also allowing your digestive system an ample break for detoxification. In addition, it is the only cleanse that I have found that advocates for a significant consumption of healthful fats, which I need not only to support my skin, but also for the omegas that keep me focused since I am sitting through lectures all day. The diet focuses on eliminating inflammatory foods so that the body can focus its energy on healing itself for three weeks.
I was amazed with my results the first time I finished the cleanse. Most surprising was its effect on my joints. A couple of years ago, I had a minor injury where I fell down a full flight of subway stairs, face first, on my elbows. (Yes, I know I’m a huge klutz!) My elbow was sprained, and ever since I’ve always needed to twist/crack it in the mornings so that it doesn’t feel sore. It’s nothing huge, but a bit annoying. By my final week of the cleanse, I noticed that I stopped needing to crack my elbow into place. Many claim that the program helps those who suffer from arthritis by reducing inflammation—it must have had the same affect on my elbow. In addition, I had more energy, slept better, and felt more focused.
I hope to experience even greater healing this time around—my goal this time around is to further heal the few vitiligo patches that I have left—and maybe even recruit some more cleanse buddies? Who’s with me?!?
I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was Sunday morning, when I received a message from Vani Hari, offoodbabe.com, inviting me to join her and Living Maxwell’s fundraiser here in NYC for proposition 37. Not only did I have a great, 100% organic meal and meet two inspiring food activists who have largely influenced my blogging, but I also gained immensely important information about an important issue surrounding today’s food policy.
Proposition 37 is a current initiative taking place in California towards labeling genetically modified foods, which have been proven to reduce fertility, decrease immune functioning, and harm the surrounding ecosphere. The people of California vote on this proposition in November, and the vote will do more than change policy locally. Large food companies are unlikely to create certain labels specific to California— if the law passes there, we likely will see more labeling NATIONWIDE. I’ve already written about the difficulties of this proposition—the insane amount of money that Monsanto, PepsiCo, Kashi, and other food companies have put against it and the unfavorable precedent in Vermont. However, last night I learned about all the factors working in our favor, and how you can help push this country towards labeling GMO’s. Here are some key positives I heard at last night’s event:
Fifteen States Have Similar Initiatives
Even if the law in California doesn’t pass (which let’s hope we don’t see happen!) fifteen other states, including Connecticut, Vermont, and New Jersey are undergoing similar battles. In addition to getting involved with the campaign in California, you can contribute your time and energy by volunteering with campaigns in these states. And the head of Connecticut’s campaign, attorney and activist Tara Cook-Littman, announced that she is looking for someone to head New York’s campaign—could it be you?
Me with Vani Hari and Living Maxwell. Such an honor to meet these two–they are even more inspiring in person than they are in writing!
Connecticut Has Received Legal Backing
If you read my previous blog on proposition 37 and food labeling, you remember that I believe that the biggest hurdle to the labeling law is not its passage, but rather its ability to withstand lawsuits in light of unfavorable legal precedent in Vermont that has held labeling laws to violate the first amendment. However, Connecticut has received the backing of its state Attorney General, who has vowed to defend the law if passed and faced with legal action. This particularly sticks out to me because it parallels the type of support that anti-tobacco advocates received in 1994, when the Mississippi attorney general was the first to go up against the tobacco industry for the healthcare costs to the state. While that case involved medical payments, not labeling, it succeeded on the basis of a similar premise—if your product causes medical harm to state constituents, it is your responsibility create a remedy.
Some Amazing Companies Are Committed to the Cause
I was able to get familiar with some of the companies that are donating money in favor of proposition 37. These are companies who—despite the cost-benefits of producing genetically engineered foods—have committed to staying organic and to promoting policies that do the same. In addition, they taste delicious. Present at the fundraiser were representatives from the blueprint cleanse, gnosis chocolate ,and Kur Raw Superfoods , among others. I was able to chat with the CEO’s of Kur Raw, who are truly amazing people who have dedicated their time and money to supporting this cause. The restaurant hosting the event,GustOrganics, is also an amazing venue to support–not only because it is 100% certified organic, but also because the food is absolutely delicious!
It seems that the more people get involved, the more fruitful this campaign will be. And if the crowd at last night’s event gave any indication of the campaign’s involvement, we’re definitely in luck. Thanks Food Babe and Living Maxwell for making this happen!
Gnosis raw chocolate with goji berries. They gave out samples for dessert at the end of the event. So delicious!
“A Journey of a Thousand Mile Begins With the First Step” –Lao Tzu
I frequently get the question from friends, family members, and blog visitors—“Alana, I’m ready to get healthy. Tell me how to eat like you.” The truth is, I would never advise anyone to switch immediately from the typical American diet to my diet— a nearly raw, vegan, no refined sugar, and gluten-free lifestyle. Getting there takes time, and transitioning too abruptly can have serious side effects on your body. But what I can recommend is that you take five easy steps to getting there. Perhaps these steps will lead you to an even greater dietary change, or maybe this will define your new lifestyle. Either way, it’s all about what feels right for you. Here are the first steps I took when transitioning my diet.
Listen to Your Body
Everyone’s body is different. The only way you can know what you should be eating is by listening to yours. Eat your meals very slowly, chewing each piece with intention, that way you can notice how it makes you feel and you can truly recognize when you are full. When you are done, set a one-hour timer on your phone reminding yourself to assess how you feel once you have fully digested. Once the timer goes off, do a personal inventory of your body. Do you feel tired? Gassy? Bloated? Energized? You will be surprised at the things that make your body tick, and be more inclined to get rid of them once you are more aware.
Slowly Replace Processed Sugar
In my ideal world, processed sugar would be thrown into a pit to be used to make punching bags! Processed sugar has been proven to cause diabetes, candida, and a myriad of other health conditions. To make things worse, it has addictive qualities similar to those of tobacco. However, getting rid of processed sugar altogether–particularly given its addictive qualities–can be extremely difficult and lead to withdrawal (I experienced it myself when first transitioning). I recommend spending one day counting the amount of sugar you eat normally. Track it on the website myfitnesspal.com if that makes it easier. Then, try cutting that number in half, or even by a fourth if that’s too difficult. Stock up on stevia, which is a low glycemic natural sweetener made from the stevia leaf, and start using it as your go-to sweetener for teas, drinks, coffee, etc. Keep some in your bag in case of emergencies. Look for products in the grocery store that use coconut nectar, stevia, or dates as their base for sweetness instead.
Don’t Drink During Meals
While water is extremely important, you should be using your time in between meals to drink as much water as you can. During meals, you should minimize your water intake so as not to dilute the production of digestive enzymes. You want multiple enzymes to be produced while you are eating so that you can fully digest your food, feel full, and reap all of the nutritious benefits of your food. So keep the water intake to a sip or two during meals and save your big gulps for afterwards.
Monitor Your Meat Consumption
Several studies have proven the harmful effects of meat—acidity, heart disease, obesity, cancer—the list goes on. While I understand that a completely vegetarian diet is not feasible for everyone, I recommend taking at least one day a week to eat vegetarian. On that day, try a new vegetarian restaurant. Some great restaurants in the NYC area include Quintessence, Caravan of Dreams, Blossom, and Peacefood, among others.
Read and Research
When I first decided to change my diet, I became largely inspired by the writings of nutritionists who were able to teach me how to do it safely. These nutritionists taught me that a proper diet is not only a cure for weight-gain, but also for skin-diseases, aging,cancer, and fatigue. Check out Kimberly Snyder’s the Beauty Detox Solution and Alejandro Junger’s Clean Program. Also check out some blogs filled with recipes and transitioning tips, such as living maxwell, food babe, and kimberly snyder.
I hope this helps you on your journey towards getting your body on track!