Imagine gaining 40 pounds through the course of a single day, and having doctors tell you that the solution was to drink less water. That’s what happened to Amie Valpone, who then spent the next decade of her life trying to get to the root cause of her issues as her health steadily deteriorated. Eventually, she was able to heal naturally and went on to become a health coach, wellness advocate, blogger, and author of the cookbook Eating Clean. Read on to learn how she found the causes of chronic illness that had been plaguing her, plus her expert insights into the benefits of clean eating and tips on eating healthy at restaurants.
Valpone was working in corporate America when all of a sudden, she started getting about 40 pounds of water swelling in her legs every day. The doctors didn’t know what was causing her edema (swelling caused by excessive fluid trapped in the body’s tissues) and suggested things like reducing her water intake and cutting down on sodium. Given the severity of Valpone’s swelling, these suggestions seemed pretty crazy and off-base.
Eventually, they ran her bloodwork, and when the doctor called with her results, Valpone was eating lunch at her office in Manhattan. Her doctor told her to get up immediately and come to a medical facility downtown. She pushed back, but he insisted, so she left her lunch on her desk and made her way to the address he’d given her. When she arrived, she was shocked to see the name of the building: St. Vincent’s Cancer Center. She soon learned that, based on her blood test results, the doctors believed she had leukemia.
Though the doctors’ diagnosis turned out to be wrong, Valpone says that from that moment on, her life was never the same. Within ten minutes, she’d had a bone marrow biopsy, and when that came back negative, she spent the following years in and out of the hospital getting various tests as her health steadily declined.
Valpone became suddenly allergic to foods she’d been eating her whole life, experiencing full-body inflammation when she ate things like soy, dairy, gluten, or corn. “My body was super inflamed. I couldn’t even touch my body after I’d eat anything, even a non-GMO organic rice cake where the only ingredient is organic brown rice,” she says. “It was insane.”
After two years, the doctors didn’t know what to do with her anymore. She’d seen every top rheumatologist, hematologist, and vascular surgeon in the tri-state area, and nobody could figure out what was wrong. “My white blood cells were a mess, my platelets, my hemoglobin,” says Valpone. “My blood work looked like I should have been dead.”
Eventually, she was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. She stayed there for a week while the doctors did a whole panel of lab work and another bone marrow biopsy. After the week was up, the doctor called her in and told her that her insurance was no longer covering her treatment. “They said, ‘Miss Valpone, here’s your blood work and your paperwork. We can no longer work with you. There’s nothing wrong with you,’” Valpone remembers.
Taking Things Into Her Own Hands to Treat the Causes of Chronic Illness
After that point, Valpone went back to her job, resigning herself to the fact that this was just how she would have to live — she would never know the causes of chronic illness that had taken over her life. But her body continued to break down. She developed muscle inflammation in her legs, which led her doctor to prescribe steroids, which affected her so severely that she spent the ensuing years constantly in and out of the Hospital for Special Surgery.
Valpone also developed SIBO, for which she was given tons of antibiotics for long stretches. Eventually, she contracted C.diff (a bacterium that’s common in people who take antibiotics over a long period of time) and was given 24 hours to live. “I was laying there with morphine in my arm, and I remember saying to myself, ‘If I survive, I’ll dedicate the rest of my life to helping people realize that they’re not crazy, and get to the root cause of what’s going on,’” she recalls.
And that’s just what she did. She ended up recovering from the C.diff, and when she got out of the hospital she left her corporate job and dove headfirst into a holistic, integrative approach to her health. She read hundreds of books and worked with several integrative and functional medicine doctors, and they found everything from mold to heavy metals to hypothyroidism to leaky gut to PCOS to candida to Lyme disease. Valpone was absolutely floored, especially given how many times Western medicine doctors had told her nothing was wrong, handed her steroids or antibiotics, and sent her back to her corporate job. None of them had cared to find the root causes of chronic illness; they’d only wanted to treat the symptoms and be done with it.
She remembers sitting with her Lyme disease paperwork, crying as she thought about how many people were suffering in the same way that she had. She asked herself: “How many people are so sick, walking around on drugs, and they have no idea anything is even going on because these doctors are telling them there’s nothing wrong with them?”
From there, she launched her website, The Healthy Apple, and enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a certified health coach. Since then, she’s stayed true to the promise she made in that hospital room and has devoted her career to helping people find the root causes of chronic illness and heal naturally, rather than masking symptoms with drugs.
If you’re struggling with chronic illness or mysterious symptoms that your doctors can’t figure out, Adrienne can help. Schedule a 1:1 call with her to learn about her holistic patient advocacy services and how she can help you find the right practitioners, get to the root of your issues, and begin to heal.
The Benefits of Clean Eating and Why A Juice Cleanse Isn’t a Detox
One of the major contributors to Valpone’s health issues was the toxins in her environment. Because of this, she’s quite familiar with the process of detoxing and wants to clear up common misconceptions about it. For one thing: detoxing and going on a juice cleanse are not the same thing. Detoxing is about eating and living a clean lifestyle, and you can get the benefits of clean eating without a juice cleanse — and on the flip side, you can go on a juice cleanse without getting the benefits of clean eating.
“It’s not about dieting or going on a juice cleanse. That’s not detoxing,” says Valpone. “I’ve never done any of that: a cleanse, a juice fast. I don’t believe in any of that. Because first of all, if you’re not doing organic juice, you’re just eating condensed pesticides, in a juice.”
As she explains, detoxing is really about eating and living a clean lifestyle that supports your body’s ability to get rid of toxins on its own on a daily basis. It’s about asking yourself how you can lessen the burden on your liver (your main detoxification organ) through the choices you make each day. The detoxing strategies she recommends are:
Eating organic, to avoid things like pesticides and antibiotics in your food
Avoiding plastics, which can lead to hormonal disruption or imbalances
Getting 8 hours of sleep each night, because your organs detoxify themselves at different points throughout the night
“You can think doing these little things are crazy,” she says. “But when you start to realize all these little pieces are what add up to the big piece as to what’s going on with these symptoms, you want to start doing these little things.”
Valpone understands that making these sort of lasting lifestyle changes can be difficult, and that going on a clearly defined cleanse for a certain number of days can feel like a simpler, more clear-cut approach, but it simply won’t get you the benefits of clean eating and detoxing that you want.
Eating Healthy At Restaurants
Valpone lives in New York City, a place that has countless restaurants and is notorious for a fast-paced lifestyle where everybody eats out. So how does she balance her clean lifestyle with a city that’s so centered around restaurant and food culture?
First things first, Amie doesn’t eat out very often at all. “I’ve lived in New York for 13 years, and I think I’ve eaten out like five times,” Valpone says. As more organic restaurants have appeared, it’s become easier for her to eat out, but restaurants are still a challenge (as Adrienne learned firsthand when she did Aviva Romm’s Adrenal Thyroid Revolution program). When it comes to eating healthy at restaurants, she’s found that certain things are very important to look out for.
Look beyond the major ingredients
Valpone found that when she went to restaurants, she was getting small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and Candida overgrowth from everything she ate. Eventually, she realized that it wasn’t the main ingredients of dishes that were irritating her — after all, she was ordering organic chicken and other foods that shouldn’t have been an issue — it was the hidden additives. She points to oil and salt as major culprits, since almost all restaurants use canola oil and table salt, both of which are highly inflammatory (better options include olive or coconut oil and sea salt or Himalayan Pink Salt). On top of that, most restaurants add sugar to things like salad dressings and marinades and use cheap, inorganic brands of honey (not the anti-inflammatory Manuka honey we love), both of which can contribute to inflammation.
Choose your restaurants wisely
Ten or so years ago, the options when it came to eating healthy at restaurants were pretty limited. But now that more and more health- and wellness-oriented eating establishments have popped up, you can use your judgment to pick restaurants that will have plenty of options for you. Though Valpone still doesn’t eat out much, the new abundance of healthy restaurants to choose from has allowed her to find clean, organic restaurants that serve more whole foods when she does.
Don’t go raw
One thing that might surprise health-conscious folks is that Valpone steers clear of places that serve salads and other raw food. “No salad bars. It’s just too easy to get parasites for me,” she says. She also points out that juice bars have the same issue since you can’t know for sure the cleanliness of the produce nor the equipment being used. Of the juicer or the juice container she said, “They don’t clean that thing! It’s the easiest way to get a parasite.” Instead, she emphasizes the importance of choosing cooked greens, which give you all the nutrients from vitamin-rich foods like kale or spinach, without any risk of parasites that will wreak havoc on your gut health.
Of course, the best way to only give your body safe and nourishing food is by cooking your own meals. But sometimes we need (or just want!) to go out to eat. Luckily, with a bit of knowledge about what to look out for and some diligence to learn about ingredient quality, eating healthy at restaurants is possible.
Do you have your own tips for eating healthy at restaurants? Have you had a health journey similar to Amie’s? Share them in the comments below!
The recovery story above is anecdotal and specific to this particular individual. Please note that this is not medical advice, and that not all treatments and approaches mentioned will work for everyone.