After you rack up nearly half a million dollars in uncovered healthcare costs like hospital visits, tests and medications that don’t give you a diagnosis or actually make you feel better, you might be pushed to more drastic measures. That was where Amie Valpone, founder of TheHealthyApple.com and best-selling author of Eating Clean: The 21-Day Plan to Detox, Fight Inflammation, and Reset Your Body, found herself more than a decade ago.
Amie walked away from Western medicine after she’d exhausted thousands of doctors across the country, including experts at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. And that decision changed her life: With the help of functional medicine practitioners and through her own research and dedication to true health, Amie healed herself from a decade of chronic pain including Lyme disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, c-diff colitis, hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, leaky gut, heavy metal and mold toxicity, and much more.
Now, she’s a Manhattan celebrity chef, nutrition expert, wellness consultant and motivational speaker specializing in simple gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free ‘Clean Eating’ recipes. This is how she got her body back on track.
Sayonara, Western Medicine
After than 10 years of chronic health issues, Amie decided to figure out how to be ‘healthy’ in a REAL way. “In my early 20s,” she says, “I was on a cocktail of prescriptions that only exacerbated my symptoms long-term.” Those symptoms began with unexplained swelling in her legs (we’re talking about 40 pounds of water weight that left her “unable to wear anything but spandex”) that was misdiagnosed as leukemia—and then spiraled out of control.
At one point during countless visits to hospitals and clinics, Amie picked up C. diff colitis, a harmful bacteria, and was given 24 hours to live. Her belly, beset by an overgrowth of bad bacteria, swelled to the point where people asked if she was pregnant. She went on disability for a year, schlepped in and out of medical facilities all over the country and gave the equivalent of her body weight in blood every few weeks for years.
Five years of Western medicine techniques (including numerous bone marrow biopsies, CT scans, MRIs, colonoscopies and more) yielded no real answers, and Amie was at a loss. Then, she discovered integrative and functional medicine and embarked on years of self-study into detox, as well as every holistic and mind-body modality you can think of. She also earned a degree in integrative nutrition, and created her very own team of integrative M.D.s who helped her identify the root cause of her illness, and supported her efforts to get well.
“If there’s one thing I would tell people,” she says, “it’s that if you’re not getting answers, get out of Western medicine.” The reason? Western medicine practitioners are often trained to only alleviate symptoms, not find the root cause.
“We’re giving away our power to doctors!” Amie says. “We have the power—we need to be drilling doctors about our symptoms, about the big picture. All our health issues are caused by accumulated toxins in our bodies in some form—skin issues, arthritis, auto-immune diseases. Prescriptions to treat any of these don’t get to the root cause of our health struggles.”
Learn to Listen to Your Body
“I’ve reacted to almost every medication I’ve ever been on,” says Amie, “and it was kind of a blessing in disguise.” She says that even though our bodies are created to naturally detox themselves, the 2017 world we’re living in taxes our internal organs too much. “Our livers, guts, kidneys and more are impacted by the toxins we deal with every day. We’re toxically overloaded.”
There are so many symptoms that we’re not supposed to have, Amie says. Headaches, stomachaches, exhaustion and the like–the things we attribute to being a human. But, says Amie, those are signs. “They’re little taps from the universe, wake-up signs, that we need to listen to.” Instead, in our competitive society, we’re told to push through, to ignore those signs.
And then, she says, our thyroid tanks. Or we get diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, or IBS or colitis. “When I worked at Vogue in my early 20s,” she says, “I totally ignored all the advice to eat organic and take time to sleep and destress. And then I ended up working my body into a chronic state for 10 years.”
“I was only taught to be competitive,” she says. “I wasn’t taught to listen to my body. If I’d grown up in a different family, under difference circumstances, maybe I wouldn’t have pushed myself so far.” Instead, Amie says, her type A, high energy personality propelled her to be the best. And then it hit a wall, and said, “You either stop, or you’re gonna die.”
“It was a huge wake-up call to me,” she says. “Being in tune with your body is the only way to avoid being in a chronic state. This is something we need to teach our kids, to train them to take care of themselves. It takes a village, but it’s worth it.”
What ‘Detox’ Really Means
The root cause of Amie’s illness is that she’s missing a gene called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, or MTHFR, which means her body can’t detox as efficiently as everyone else’s.
Carriers (35% of the population!) of this gene are unable to detoxify as efficiently as everyone else, and as a result, toxins accumulate, causing irritable bowel, arthritis, even cancer. When you’re missing this gene, you’re also more susceptible to environmental toxins (herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, heavy metals), which then bind to fat receptors and compromise your methylation, the process by which your body repairs DNA and keeps inflammation in check. Says Amie, “You need methylation to stay healthy, and I was not methylating, period.”
This realization led Amie to the idea of “detoxing”—but it’s not the green juices and kale salads you’re used to. Amie’s idea of detoxing is about “getting the bad out and getting the good in.”
“It’s about the everyday things you can do to support your body’s ability to get rid of toxins,” she says. “It’s not about a cleanse. Rather than a quick fix you use when you’re coming off a bender, the goal of a true detox is to reset your digestion and dramatically reduce and remove your exposure and intake of environmental toxins.”
What Amie is talking about is a serious and intentional effort of review everything she put in and on her body with an eye toward dramatically reducing her exposure to environmental toxins. Those toxins come from countless places—from processed foods and pesticides, car exhaust and other pollution, and cosmetics. “I was very cautious not to be fearful of these toxins or freak out about the toxins that I was bombarded with on a daily basis,” she says. “I was sure to be mindful of everything around me and made small changes throughout the past few years to better my well-being as often as possible.”
How to Detox Daily
Amie goes into great detail in her book about how to do a 21-day detox to reduce inflammation and reset your body, but she’s a big proponent of daily detoxing too. What does that mean in practice? “Take what you do the most and adjust that,” Amie says. “Start small, with everyday things, like:
- Stop washing your dishes with toxic soap.
- Stop using traditional laundry detergent.
- Buy organic sheets.
- Use green, clean beauty products.
- Filter your tap water.
- Take an Epsom salt bath as often as possible.
- Lessen your stress—it’s not just about food!
- Watch your workouts. If your body is already tapped, working out will only increase levels of cortisol, which increases your stress.
- Take naps.
- Spend time alone.
- Say no to things.”
You might feel like an alien, Amie says, but your body will thank you! She also points out that she’s not perfect. “I don’t wear organic clothing! It’s about mindfully doing everything you can, not being perfect.”
How to Be In Charge of Your Life
Even this mindful detoxing can seem overwhelming, especially when you start wondering what other people will think of your changes. Says Amie, “We all HAVE to stop worrying what other people think of us. If other people make fun of you or question what you’re doing, walk out on them and find new friends.”
“You should never feel ashamed for being the best friend to the only body you’ve been given,” she says. “You can be mindful of your needs without being unkind or offensive to others. What you cannot do, is sacrifice your health over food, no matter what social toll it takes.”
It might sound extreme, but she’s talking from experience. “I never thought people would love me with all my issues—but they do. My girl friends, my guy friends. They accept me.”
She says it’s really about being in charge of your life, taking back the power we’ve given away. “At the end of the day, you have to stand in front of the mirror and realize you’re your biggest cheerleader—not your friends, your partner, your boyfriend or girlfriend. You. You’re in this body suit and you have to take care of it, aggressively.”
So how does she recommend becoming that internally strong? “Sit with yourself,” she says. “Focus on your nose while you close your eyes, because that helps your thoughts stop, and put your hand over your heart. Say to yourself, ‘I’ve got you. I love you. We’re going to get through this.’ Gently pull yourself back into your body, to become one again with your mind and body.”
Doing this practice regularly will help you calm your mind and regulate your body. Because in the end, it’s not just about food, but about taking care of ourselves holistically. “What happened to me was so extreme, I couldn’t ignore it,” says Amie. “Don’t wait until you’re in that state to help your body.”
MAGICAL PEACH ARUGULA SALAD
- 10 cups arugula
- 5 medium ripe peaches, pitted and diced
- 2 yellow or orange bell peppers, diced
- 1⁄3 cup finely chopped raw walnuts
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper