I haven’t had a cold, flu, fever or infectious stomach bug since January 2016. Before that, I regularly caught the cold and flu every winter and sometimes in summer too. So what happened to change my life to being free of seasonal illnesses? My diet. Here’s how.
Food As Vaccine
At the end of December 2015, I quit my job as a corporate lawyer to embark on a life of international’s travel – finally living the life I had dreamt for myself and not the one everyone claimed I should live.
By the time I pulled the plug on the crazy law firm life, I had spent 13 years working my ass off and progressively eating more and more processed and low nutrition food. I had little time to cook what with 14 hour work days and working through most weekends. Take out, delivery, local delis, pizza, pasta, and heat and serve meals became my defaults. Little did I know how badly this diet was undermining my long-term health, let alone my everyday immune health. I wasn’t always sick, though I had other chronic issues, but I always got a yearly cold or flu, sometimes multiple times in the year.
Then I left the US and flew to Thailand, arriving January 1, 2016. This marked the day my life changed forever and started me on a whole foods lifestyle, though I didn’t know it at the time.
In Bangkok I mostly recovered from 13 years of workaholism and began eating better food – tons more vegetables and fresh meats like pork and chicken. No fast food, no processed foods, no heat and serve meals, no pasta or pizza – basically the opposite of my American diet for the last decade.
After about a week of mostly catching up on a decade’s worth of sleep in my hotel in Bangkok, I took the train north to Chiang Mai. On the way there I noticed I was developing a runny nose seemingly out of nowhere, to which was added watery eyes and sneezing that got worse along the ride (which took roughly 12 hours thanks to a breakdown on the tracks). I had a full blown cold/flu when I reached the station in Chiang Mai. For the next few days I was pretty much sick in bed or lounging in pajamas on the couch of my new apartment as the sickness ran its course. Then I was recovering over the next week.
After that, I never got sick again.
Food Is Medicine
While maxing out my Thai tourist visa in Chiang Mai and Phuket, I did nothing but eat amazing Thai food made fresh from real foods. The local restaurants and street vendors made fresh juices, soups, noodle and rice dishes. Everything had tons of fresh veggies and meat, very little preservatives or chemicals.
I also started cooking for myself most days. I’d pick up fresh produce, rice and meat from the market and grocery store. I made curries and stir fries all the time. Gone were the processed foods for the majority of my meals. I only bought them as snacks now and again.
My energy came back, as did my vitality. I stopped being sluggish or having afternoon lulls. I also stopped getting sick.
You would think I’d catch something since I seemingly didn’t have an immunity to local bacteria and viruses. I traveled all through Asia until September of that year – living and eating in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan. I ate at local restaurants, from street vendors, the markets, and food courts. Mostly though I ate real foods like fresh vegetables and fresh meat. I never had access to microwaves so never made microwave meals. My junk food intake drastically declined and I cooked most of my meals. Basically my nutrition in Asia turned on its head from what it had been in the States.
I passed through numerous bus and train stations, airports and other contagion magnets. I lived in mostly large, crowded cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Seoul, Busan, Osaka, Tokyo and Sapporo. But I never caught anything. I never got sick with seasonal illnesses like everyone else seemed to get. I lived in southern Italy from September to December, traveling around Sicily and sharing a house with others in Catania. Here again I ate meals and consumed drinks centered around fresh produce, fresh meat and espresso. Somehow, I didn’t get sick even when my less healthy eating and drinking roommates did.
Back in the States for late December, I traveled across the US and Canada for 7 months on a mega road trip. My diet shifted but I mostly I continued to eat the fresh and whole foods I had grown to love overseas. I even camped in state and national parks all through winter but still never got sick.
Then in August 2017, I returned to DC and my old law firm for about a year. This meant working in a basement crammed with people. A strong strain of flu ran through the office and nearly everyone was out sick for part of the season. But not me. The most I ever felt was a slight tickle in the back of my throat that meant I might get a sore throat, but it went away in half a day without any bother. No flu, no cold. I still called in sick now and again – I always take at least one “sanity day” off each month whether I’m sick or not.
Why wasn’t I catching anything? My theory: For nearly 2 years I had been eating mostly real food and very little processed food. My body had used that time and nutritious food to refortify and heal my various systems. By the time the winter 2017-2018 flu and cold season rolled around, I had started the slow carb diet and was well on my way to living a whole foods life. Because of how clearly this clean living impacted my health, I’m a convert for life to real, whole foods and a lifestyle that minimizes and avoids junk food, processed food, and convenience foods.
Over 2 years have passed since I formally converted to a whole foods-based life and I’ve never felt more healthy and energetic (see my article What Happened When I Gave Up Bread). Better, I’ve never caught the colds, flus and other transmissible illnesses making the rounds that take down my friends, family, colleagues and house guests.
Why Food Is Vaccine
Dr. Pam Popper in her excellent book Food Over Medicine talks about the preventative health benefits of whole foods. When we eat real food, we give our bodies the nutrition they need to build, repair and maintain themselves in optimal health. We are feeding our beneficial bacteria as well, which does so much for our immune health. Without a healthy gut biome we are sure to experience immunity problems. That biome thrives on fiber and nutrient-rich legumes, nuts, and fresh produce of all types. When subjected to sugar, salt and nutrient poor foods like what most Americans typically eat, the beneficial bacteria die or cannot establish themselves and our immune system becomes crippled (1).
When we eat junk and processed food while turning up our noses at the very foods that sustain heath, we are running a dangerous experiment on ourselves. Is it any wonder so many people are sick when they are wounding, neglecting and poisoning their bodies by the foods and drinks they consume?
Our bodies are amazingly resilient. Our immune systems are phenomenal. We can heal and repel so many attacks on our systems but only when we arm ourselves and that system with proper nutrients. With the wrong fuels, we are pretty much lighting our immune system on fire and destroying it.
Real Food Is A Shield
I haven’t been sick since January 2016. I’ve only grown more and more healthy since that last cold or flu, even when exposed to sick and contagious roommates, colleagues, friends and house guests, or while crammed into packed buses or trains during long rush hour commutes. I’ve also lost count of the number of domestic and international flights I’ve taken. In the past 4 years, surely I should have caught something, right? But I haven’t.
I credit my food choices to this good health. After all, I’m not getting yearly flu vaccines or walking around with hand sanitizer in my bag. I’m not spraying disinfectant around myself either. I just eat real, whole food, and wash my hands like usual upon coming home, when cooking, or in the restroom. That’s it.
I haven’t gotten sick in a long time. Maybe someday I will but in the meantime, my real food lifestyle seems to be protecting me better than anything out there. It’s also a deliciously satisfying way to live. Change your diet to real, wholesome food and watch your health improve too. Who wouldn’t want that?
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