This is a story that needs to be told and we’re incredibly grateful that Eili has written it for us to share. In fact this is not one story but several, bringing in more than one health condition, the catalyst for becoming vegetarian then vegan, and a glimpse into the world of veterinary practice.
Enjoy Eili’s Story.
My name is Eili and I am a small animal vet working in First Opinion Practice (now in my 27th year here in the UK!) – currently I work in a cat and rabbit only clinic and also do freelance home visit pet laser acupuncture treatments (with training in traditional chinese medicine). I am on my feet all day long and in my free time I love walking in the countryside with my dogs, horse riding and running.
In 2017 I started having pains in both my feet. I ignored it initially but then saw a podiatrist who diagnosed plantar fasciitis in both feet – inflammation of the plantar fascia (the tissue connecting heel bone to the toes). Despite prescribed insoles and stretching exercises the pain did not go away, and in 2018 I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. Treatment with Thyroxine was started and I also went to see a physiotherapist – who explained Plantar Fasciitis in both feet is most likely caused by a biochemical rather than a biomechanical issue and in my case as in many middle aged overworked and stressed women triggered by chronic inflammation.
He put me in touch with a medical herbalist who I have been working with ever since. She has been a huge support and help on my journey. Further blood tests later that year revealed I am suffering from autoimmune thyroid disease Hashimoto’s where the body attacks its own tissue – this leads to symptoms of Hypothyroidism. But the thyroid is not actually the problem – it is the body’s attack on it that leads to the symptoms. The NHS western medicine approach is to treat the symptoms by supplementing thyroxine (I was told by a doctor – I have a common disease and the NHS is not interested in anything else).
But to me it was important to find out why my body is attacking its own tissues and to find the underlying cause – and then treatment. Also often one autoimmune disease leads to other ones later in life and possibly even more serious disease.
So my intention was then to find a way of tackling the chronic inflammation in my body that led to autoimmune disease and also my symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis. The pain in my feet was often so bad it really affected me at work and in my private life, making a lot of activities but also day to day life very non-enjoyable!
I think I must have bought 20-30 different types of insoles, I saw acupuncturists with both western and traditional Chinese medicine approaches, a physiotherapist, an osteopath, podiatrist and chiropractor over the following years. I watched videos on stretching, joined facebook support groups, bought shoes especially with cushioning. Sometimes there was a small improvement but often the symptoms recurred with a vengeance, making life a misery at times, especially when being outside in nature with my animals is so important to me. I even stopped running for a while ( I am a slow plodder anyway but I am consistent , I used to run 5 days out of 7 and have completed a couple of marathons and several trail half marathons over the years).
In 2019 I saw a rheumatologist and I had an MRI scan on my feet – confirming I was suffering from Plantar Fasciitis – and the treatment offered was steroid injections into the feet but I declined. To me it was still important to address the cause – the general chronic inflammation – rather than treating the symptoms. I was concerned that if the pain was not there to remind me I had to make changes in my life, I would not be determined enough to continue on my journey to heal. I had also heard a lot of negative things about the lack of success rate of this type of treatment, which makes perfect sense if the underlying problem is somewhere else. I also saw an NHS based Dietician, recommended by the rheumatologist – a complete waste of my time and money. I was simply told to stop eating so much fibre and eat more “white” products.
On my journey I discovered that disease often starts with the gut and how important it is to address gut function. Even though I am a vet we never learned much about this aspect of disease when I went to vet school (many years ago admittedly!) and that a big part of our immune system is located in the gut. I have been vegetarian since my third year at vet school having to witness the appalling conditions animals are kept under so we can breed and eat them.
In 2008 I decided I would give veganism a try – I would say I was probably 80-90% vegan most of the time but I would make exceptions for some dairy (and chocolate!!). In hindsight I realise that things probably became more of an issue when in 2016/17 I started having symptoms of irritable bowel disease. The combination of chronic stress and gut issues probably then led to symptoms becoming more apparent – although the autoimmune disease probably started developing over quite a few years.
In 2019 after some research into autoimmune disease I thought I would give a gluten free diet a try. But I would eat a fair amount of gluten free products, although I was also doing some cooking and bread making myself. I did not realise that gluten free products are often worse than gluten containing products when it comes to ingredients! I did a lot of reading and listening and tried a few different diet approaches including a lectin free diet. Again there would be an initial improvement but then the symptoms would return with a vengeance.
In Summer / Autumn 2020 my feet were often excruciatingly painful especially when first getting up and stepping on the ground, longer walks were impossible and I stopped running to see if this would alleviate the pain but it did not help. I was still seeing different therapists but no long term improvement.
Then in November 2020 by pure chance I came across a gut health summit online, run by Chef AJ in the USA, with access to lots of lectures of many different gut health experts and different approaches to treatments. This was an absolute eye opener! I had obviously been aware of the importance of the microbiome and especially the gut one but I learnt so much and I got so much information – it was amazing. There were so many fantastic specialists and I did even more reading / listening on Audible over the following weeks.
What really intrigued me was the mention of a whole plant food based diet – SOS free – so eliminating salt, oil, sugar, flour and all processed products. Until then I did not realise that really I had been a junk food vegan on and off. Initially I thought this was nuts! How could you do that and implement it into normal life! But something attracted me to this idea and I went Whole Food Plant Based SOS free in December 2020 with just a brief exception over Christmas. I did it mainly for gut health but to my excitement it also affected my weight. I have been overweight on and off all my life – the typical yoyo dieter! I have tried many different diets over the years. I am 1.65m tall and I have weighed as much as 84kg and as low as 59kg. My friends in Germany would joke they would never know what to expect when they saw me as there would be long intervals between meet-ups and sometimes I was big and sometimes normal, sometimes thin! The lifestyle of a vet is not always very healthy, especially when I was younger and did emergency night shift work – you literally eat on the go most of the time whenever you get a chance. Stuffing yourself quickly becomes a common thing, and so is eating on the go. In addition to that, stress levels can be very high and the workload very unpredictable. It is an amazing job but unfortunately it is getting more stressful and draining and demanding as years go on rather than easier – nowadays the restrictions, rules, admin and also expectations of the public are enormous. The fear of failure and also litigation is constant. It is a vocation but it is a hard job. I would say it is probably more stressful now than when I first started in 1995.
So I was just curious when I went onto the Whole Food Plant Based journey but to my amazement after maybe about three months I suddenly noticed the symptoms of my Plantar Fasciitis had more or less disappeared! I could stand and walk without pain for the first time in several years! I had also lost more weight without really making an effort – people found it hard to believe I was eating lots but losing weight. I followed Chef Aj’s plan of eating lots of food that are low in caloric density and provide a lot of satiety. I started with breakfast of grains / steamed greens , had a large portion of beans and sweet potatoes mid morning, a huge salad later in the day and lots of fruit and was still losing weight. I tracked my nutrient and calorie intake with an app – Cronometer – and I was often eating 2500-3000 calories a day and not even exercising much. On top of that I absolutely fell in love with this way of eating.
For the first time in my life I am managing to keep my weight off without falling off the trail after a few months and gaining even more weight. In order to make sure I was doing things right I also had a consultation with a plant based doctor, Dr Laura Freeman from Plant Based Health Professionals UK – I wanted to talk to someone who understands this way of eating - and I am very grateful for the support and advice I received, I even signed up to become a member.
I know I am addicted to certain foods – I read “The Pleasure trap” (Goldhamer/Lisle) amongst other books by Michael Greger, Judson Brewer, Dean Ornish, Colin Campbell, Will Bulsiewicz, Joel Fuhrman and many more and it helps to understand what exactly is happening in our bodies and brains when we eat certain foods.
This way of eating is the best thing I have ever done and I am intending to continue with it for life.
I am still working on healing my autoimmune disease – the last three months I have been following a healing protocol by Dr Brooke Goldner, who many years ago healed herself from Autoimmune Lupus and since then has helped many people. The protocol consists of adding hyper nourishing foods like healing Greens,cruciferous vegetables, lots of water and omega 3 in the form of Chia and Flax seeds– and eliminating all inflammatory foods like processed food and oil. My thyroid antibodies are coming down – they have consistently been over 1500 over the last few years (they should be under 30) and have since dropped to 420. Still some way to go but I appreciate that my autoimmune disease did not start overnight and healing takes time. And the body heals in its own unique way.
I am also aware of having to change more than nutrition in my life although this plays a big role. It is about healing body, mind and soul, and finding a better work – life balance. I’ve started working with a mindfulness coach and I try to do yoga as often as I can fit it in - again for mind and body.
In some way I am grateful for my illness as it has put me onto a different path in life and I have met so many amazing people on my way who have helped me in different ways. It has opened me up to so many new ways of thinking and shown me there is so much knowledge out there - but also that everyone has to find their own path in life.
It is not an easy journey and my family is not always supportive or understanding of my actions even though I am feeling better for it! They thought I had joined some weird clan when I told them about the Whole Food Plant Food, SOS free diet last winter. And because of Covid, some of them have not seen the gradual change over the last 12 months, and they were shocked to see how much weight I have lost (I am 52kg now). I know they are concerned and worried because they care. It is surprising how many people suddenly turn into nutritional specialists! But I also know there are lots of wonderful people out there who will support and help me.
My guide and mantra is “I choose and trust in the healing power of plants.”
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If you would like to see what others have shared with us, or if you have a remarkable plant based story to tell, do take a look at this page: https://www.henryandhenryeu.com/yourstory