“My name is Abbie and I am so excited to take you on my journey of getting a diagnosis, coming to terms with my chronic illness, and how I’m taking matters into my own hands through a balanced, vegan diet. I say, “coming to terms with my chronic illness” because I feel like this isn’t often talked about. You see, I was at the top of my game for years. I was a cheerleading national champion training 6-7 days a week, and I went on to play division 1 college rugby. I was always so proud of my energy and my physical condition, and then everything changed about three years ago.
That energy and athleticism came crashing down after graduating college. I was constantly tired, to the point that I would go to work, train my Great Dane puppy, then go to bed. My life felt like Groundhog Day. Finally, I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with a possible case of mononucleosis. Thank goodness! That would explain the chronic fatigue. Not…
I continued to suffer from the chronic fatigue and the brain fog that comes along with Dysautonomia (inability to regulate non-voluntary responses). I thought maybe it had something to do with my anxiety, and there was also the possibility that I was just plain lazy. Then, I started to suffer from dizzy spells and tachycardia (rapid heart beat) on a regular basis. I even experienced tightness in my chest and pain in my arms which caused me to seek out a cardiologist, as I have a family history of heart disease and heart attack.
I had to take a series of heart tests, including a stress test, an EKG, and an echocardiogram, and while my heart rate was always on the higher end, it looked normal, and no structural abnormalities could be found. They essentially wrote it off as stress and anxiety (though I had never been happier and more carefree in my life).
I went back to my general practitioner for my dizziness and for the first time, I heard about POTS. POTS stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome; a disorder in which the Autonomic Nervous System is damaged (for me, presumably by the mono I had, or an earlier bout of Pneumonia) and functions that are performed by the autonomic nervous system are impacted and abnormal. My doctor noted that my dizziness was mostly occurring after meals. This is because with POTS, digestion is hindered, and the heart has to pump harder to get blood to the intestines so they can effectively digest food. I also suffer from major bloating because of this, which is no fun as a woman who has struggled with body image.
POTS is so much more than these symptoms, and everyone experiences it differently. Due to continued tachycardia and one very scary episode (my heart rate hit 208 bpm), I am now on a medication for my heart rate. My cardiologist told me that POTS is very hard to diagnose, and that he treats it the same whether it’s diagnosed or not. The treatment? Beta blockers. The medication they give to people to help prevent a second heart attack. I’m a relatively healthy 25-year-old, and I’m on beta blockers. This was a huge wake up call for me.
Don’t get me wrong, the medication has really helped me, but I just can’t stomach the idea of being on these meds my entire life. Thankfully, Zac Efron’s “Down to Earth” series on Netflix came just in time. In his “London” episode, he met a food blogger named Ella. She also suffers from POTS. I was shocked to see someone with POTS represented in media, as it’s a very tricky condition that isn’t well known. What was more fascinating was that she was able to go off all medications by simply switching to a vegan diet. I had been vegetarian for almost four years in the past, before most of my POTS symptoms started, and I immediately remembered how great I felt. So, I figured since I’m already on the medication, why not try a vegan diet to see if I feel any better? It can’t get any worse, can it?
I’m a few weeks into my vegan diet. I definitely "cheat" at times, because I believe that going cold turkey is the quickest way for a diet to fail. That said, I am already seeing a difference with my bloating and dizziness after eating vegan meals. While I have a long way to go to make this lifestyle change, I am so excited with what I’m seeing so far and can’t wait to see how this diet helps my POTS.
This process has taught me quite a few things. First, you are more than a diagnosis, and if you’re not getting the proper diagnosis and treatment, seek it out. Doctors and medicine are incredible resources, but they have limitations- we all do! Second, you know your body better than anyone, listen to it, and speak up when something is wrong. Third, if you can, have someone else help you advocate for yourself. I am so grateful for my sweet fiancé who is not only an EMT and able to take my heart rate and blood pressure frequently, but he also is more articulate than I am. He comes to doctors appointments and helps me remember important points and effectively communicate those to my doctors.
This journey has been over three years in the making, and at the same time, it feels like the journey is only beginning. I’m excited to see how diet and nutrition can change my life for the better.”
*This submission has been lightly edited for clarity
Abbie is a longtime friend of our nutritional scientist, Bailey. She is getting married in October and will be back later this year to share the changes she’s seen from her vegan diet!
You can follow her journey here: https://www.instagram.com/abbietaylorgang/
It is important to note that while veganism can help heal the body in a multitude of ways, it is not a great fit for everyone. Please consult with a doctor and check in regularly any time you make a major lifestyle change, and always consult a nutrition professional before changing your diet for a safe plan for your body.
It is also of note that a vegan diet can lead to some nutritional deficiencies + other health risks if not carried out properly. It is always recommended to seek resources, recommendations, and accurate information from a nutrition professional before beginning a new diet or lifestyle change.
There is a lot of information on the internet, and not all of it is true or accurate. The wellness space is overwhelmed with under-educated "sharers". We highly encourage you to at least ask questions before implementing new protocols in your lifestyle as some common "health foods" and home remedies can be dangerous for other organ systems.
If you are interested in finding a lifestyle plan that works for your unique body, please request a free discovery call using any of the following methods:
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