In my early twenties, I was a school teacher and Pilates instructor, and on top of my jobs, I was used to running five miles (8km) almost every day. But slowly, I became so exhausted that I could barely get out of bed to go to work.
I couldn’t figure out why I had no energy, but I noticed myself becoming a different person. On top of my depleted energy, I had constipation so bad that at one point, I couldn’t go for two weeks.
In 2012, when I was 25, I went to my doctor, who told me I had Hashimoto’s disease, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid. This led to hypothyroidism – my thyroid wasn’t producing enough thyroid hormone – and my doctor said this was the cause of my fatigue.
I began taking hormones every day to replace those that my body wasn’t producing, as well as laxatives for my constipation. Still, my energy levels didn’t change much. I was still tired all the time and, for me, the prescription medications felt more like Band-Aids than solutions.
Even after two years of treatment, I still felt so exhausted that I had to resign from my teaching job. I knew I had to do something to bring back my energetic self.
‘I was willing to try anything.’
In 2014, I was sitting down at a wedding reception when a friend who practices functional medicine came up to me. It was a few months after I’d resigned from my job, and she could tell something was wrong. “What’s going on with you?” she asked. I told her about my autoimmune disorder and how the hormones just weren’t helping me.
“No grains, legumes, refined sugar or dairy,” she replied. “Try it.”
This type of diet isn’t a conventional approach to hypothyroidism. (So far, evidence of a gluten-free diet improving thyroid function is mostly anecdotal, although some women do swear by it to help their symptoms.)
Making such a big change probably seems drastic to some. But at that point, after years of feeling exhausted and sick, I was willing to try just about anything to get my energy back and feel better about myself.
I had always loved eating fruits, veggies and proteins anyways. But baking – that was something I couldn’t live without. It was my love language. I baked cookies for my brother and his friends after school when we were kids, and I baked banana bread for my now-husband for our second date. We made that same banana bread for each guest at our wedding.
Read more: Gluten-free, dairy-free dark chocolate tart
I was a baker at heart, and I felt like my only choices were giving it up or baking without being able to try a single bite. So as I went into the diet, I was determined to find a way to keep baking in my life.
‘My new diet was surprisingly easy.’
It was probably less than a week into my new diet when I was craving something sweet. I knew I couldn’t keep myself from baking long, but I didn’t want to totally blow my new eating habits. So I challenged myself to bake without any of the ingredients I had eliminated from my diet.
After tons of trial-and-error, I found the five perfect ingredients that I could use to bake just about anything from cakes to cookies to brownies and, of course, banana bread:
Himalayan pink salt
I was thrilled. I could have my cake (literally!) and my new-and-improved diet, too.
When it came to my day-to-day eating, I found easy ways to replace the ingredients I had cut out.
For breakfast, I started eating a few eggs and veggies or a cup of decaf coffee blended with coconut cream and a collagen protein supplement.
For lunch, I’ll have what I call a “loaded salad,” which I pack with protein like chicken, eggs or fish mixed with green veggies like kale and Brussels sprouts.
For dinner, I’d eat more veggies, which I love to roast, and another protein. I learnt to make sweet-potato fries as a healthy alternative to French fries and spaghetti squash when I’m in the mood for something pasta-like. I figured out ways to make lasagna and Bolognese without grains or gluten, too.
When I got hungry between meals (which surprisingly didn’t happen often!), I ate 100% cacao or dehydrated coconut pieces, which I call “coconut jerky”. (It’s really good, I promise.)
At the beginning of each week, I roasted a big batch of vegetables and sweet potatoes. That way, I knew I’d have something easy and healthy to grab when my days got busy.
‘I took my baking to a whole new level.’
This may sound crazy, but the diet change was much easier – and more fun – than I thought it would be. My husband and I decided to stop buying any groceries with refined sugar, grains, legumes and dairy. Instead we bought more proteins, fruits, vegetables and good fats, like avocados.
It was life-changing to realise that I didn’t have to give up my passion for baking (and, of course, tasting). After I made a chocolate cake for my friend, Claire Thomas, using those five ingredients, her response was “I’m sorry, what?” She couldn’t believe how great it tasted, and she challenged me to start selling my cakes.
Soon after that, and just three months after I started my new diet, Claire and I founded Sweet Laurel, our brand and bakery, together. What started as an Instagram account became a company from my kitchen, where I baked using those five ingredients and delivered them myself.
They started selling like wildfire, and we’re set to open a brick-and-mortar bake shop this year. I’ll never get tired of reactions from my friends, family and customers when they learn that the dessert they’ve just tasted is completely free of gluten, grains and refined sugar.