Most of us don’t take the action necessary to create change until the status quo has become so painful, only drastic measures will do. This could be said of each of the nine individuals below.
Although there were different health conditions at play – ranging from cancer to eating disorders and obesity – each of these amazing nine powerfully took responsibility for their health, choosing to forge their own path towards better self care and ultimately, recovery. And to top it off, they have gone on to use their experience to help inspire others to do the same.
In no particular order, here are nine people whose health transformations we can all draw inspiration from, including the details of how they created change:
Prior to 2011, Jon Gabriel was a very fat man. Unsurprisingly, Jon was also miserable and desperate to lose weight. He tried just about every diet around but without success, even working face to face with the late Dr Atkins (who unable to help Jon lose weight, merely resorted to yelling at him for being so fat). Helpful.
Jon realized he had to help himself, and began searching 12 hours a day for a solution to his obesity. Armed with a degree in biochemistry, he researched everything he could about the hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and chemical messages that cause weight gain.
Jon lost 103 kilograms. Among his key insights, Jon said that stress and emotional issues can cause an unfavorable hormonal environment, which in turn can contribute to weight gain. In his bestselling book, The Gabriel Method, he advocates taking a mind body approach that nourishes the body and reduces the physical, mental and emotional stresses that cause weight gain.
In his words: “I decided to try to figure out why my body wanted to be so fat and what I could do to get it to want to be thin. I started studying the chemistry of stress and I also started studying a lot of stress reduction techniques. And I started to lose weight all of a sudden in a very gradual and sustainable way”.
Kris Carr is a huge source of inspiration for many cancer sufferers. She shows the world how to live a happy and fulfilling life – in spite of (or because of) the disease. A former actor and photographer from New York, and having been diagnosed with incurable (but slowing growing) stage 4 cancer in 2003, Kris is now a prolific writer, public speaker and ‘cancer thriver’.
Following her diagnosis, Kris hit the road on a self-care pilgrimage (her words), and made a total lifestyle upgrade inside and out. She turned to nutrition to boost her immune system and longevity, and in turn has become a passionate proponent of nutrient dense, plant-based foods (as well as living and loving with gusto).
In her words: “I fully believe in a balanced approach to healing and I want to see a world where doctors and patients embrace intelligent medicine as well as healthy lifestyle practices. Find the best conventional doctor for your disease as well as a holistic practitioner who can teach you how to care for your entire system.” Inspiring stuff.
Autoimmune disease is one of the leading causes of death among women up to 65 years old. The condition compromises the immune system, and can be debilitating and incapacitating for those who suffer from it.
Danielle Walker was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when she was 22 years old, and for four years relied on multiple blood transfusions and iron transfusions to survive. While her doctors narrowly focused on prescribing her medications, Danielle did considerable research and sought alternative views (including from a naturopath), and realized that she needed to drastically change her diet. She begun by eliminating trigger foods such as grains, lactose, and legumes from her diet, and adding supplements to help repair the damage done to her gut.
In her words: “After a few years of suffering, multiple hospitalizations, and doctors telling me that what I ate wasn’t a factor in my disease, I decided to take matters into my own hands and drastically change my diet. If there is one thing I can recommend, it is to watch your symptoms closely and do what is right for you”.
Joe Cross was not only obese and suffering from an autoimmune disease, he was also a smoker who drank too much alcohol. Not surprisingly, by 2005 he was fat, sick and nearly dead.
Having exhausted solutions offered by doctors and conventional medicine, Joe decided to go on a juice fast which he documented in the film Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. Traveling around America with a cameraman in tow, Joe surviving on nothing but juices for 60 days. After 60 days, he lost 100 pounds.
The juice fast was the catalyst for him to achieve a healthy, balanced and sustainable lifestyle. He now has a popular website, Reboot with Joe, which aims to educate people on how to achieve weight loss and health through juicing and plant-based eating.
In his words: “With doctors and conventional medicines unable to help me long-term, I knew I had to drastically change my lifestyle so I turned to the only option left: the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Across 3,000 miles I had one goal in mind: To get off the pills and achieve a healthy and balanced lifestyle”.
Dr Fred Frese
Although mental illness affects at least one in five of us, negative attitudes continue to fuel stigma and discrimination against sufferers. And schizophrenia is perhaps the most stigmatized of mental illnesses.
Dr Fred Frese’s story powerfully demonstrates that schizophrenia isn’t an insurmountable obstacle to living a meaningful, rewarding and successful life. Diagnosed with the disorder as a 25 year old in the 1960s, he cycled in and out of mental hospitals for 10 years, once having to be strapped to a table after a psychotic break.
Nevertheless, Fred forged a brilliant career in psychology and health. After earning a doctorate in psychology, he went on to become director of psychology for 15 years at Western Reserve State Hospital, a now-defunct psychiatric hospital. Fred’s perspective as both patient and mental health professional, and his tireless advocacy (he travels half the year and has delivered 1000s of speeches), has made him hugely influential in mental health policy.
In his words: “It is exceedingly difficult for you to admit to yourself that your mind does not function properly. But if one does not acknowledge that they have the disorder, how can it be helped? Why would anyone want to be cured of a disorder that they do not believe they have?”
Depression, or the ‘black dog’, as Winston Churchill called it, can be soul stealing.
Brooke McAlary felt angry, tired, sad, stressed and numb for a number of years. It was when she became a mother for the first time that she truly burnt out and was finally diagnosed with depression. With the help of therapy and medication, Brooke came to the realization that she needed to dedicate her time and energy into doing what was most important to her – slowing down.
She created the blog Slow Your Home, which gives advice on living a more simple and mindful life. As well as promoting the virtues of minimalism, the blog also covers de-stressing, keeping calm, de-cluttering and, of course, slowing down.
In her words: “After burning out in a big way I’m trying to shift the way my family and I live. Living more simply. More mindfully. Over the past three years I’ve learnt a lot about what it takes to start simplifying and find happiness in the every day”.
Sohee Lee is a great example of an inspiring young person who triumphed over a debilitating eating disorder, and went on to thrive.
Like most high school students, Sohee wanted to look her best. She approached the goal by starving herself, which resulted in an 8 year fight with anorexic and bulimia. Her transformation to good health began towards the end of high school, when she happened upon The Eat Clean Diet book and discovered the joy of lifting weights in the gym. According to Sohee, her mindset switched almost overnight from “starve, run, binge, purge to lift, eat, repeat”.
In her words: “There’s no guarantee that I won’t fall back to my previous ways. But every day I make a thousand and one decisions, and each time I choose to respect my body, I am winning. And as long as I continue to win more days than not, I think I’ll be all right”.
Robb is a well-known proponent of the paleo diet, a lifestyle/way of eating that he used to transform his own health. Prior to going paleo, Robb suffered from gastrointestinal problems, including severe Ulcerative Colitis. Once a California State Powerlifting Champion, his health deteriorated to the extent that he could no longer bench his own body weight (despite eating what was considered the perfect vegan, grain-based diet).
He first experimented with a low carb, Atkins approach, rather than strictly paleo, which assisted in alleviating his gastrointestinal problems. However, it was the paleo diet that really propelled his excellent health.
In his words: “I was basically seriously chinga’d at one point. Then I heard about this diet, and it was this idea that if you ate more akin to your Paleolithic ancestors, that there might be some health benefits to that. So I used this new search engine called Google… [it was 1998]”.
Wendy was a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Like a true academic, she responded by researching as much cancer science literature as she could, and discovered that research was increasingly highlighting the link between exercise and surviving cancer.
Bucking conventional advice to rest after post-reconstructive surgery in 2007, Wendy embraced exercise. She worked with a personal trainer, increasing her upper-body strength, improving her fitness by running on the treadmill, and using yoga and pilates to regain her mobility and balance.
Convinced that exercise played a crucial role in her recovery, she founded Survivors’ Training, a nonprofit organization that connects women survivors and spreads the news about the importance of exercise to cancer survival.
In her words: “I discovered the information about exercise and recovery on my own. I had to be my own healthcare advocate.”
Do you have experience to share about an inspiring health transformation? Tell us about it in the comments below!