Humans of Agni

Aleks, New York City

"My family moved to the United States from Poland when I was 6 years old. One of my earliest memories of food was having breakfast cereal for the first time. It was something we’d never eaten in Poland. I remember thinking it was just the coolest thing, there were all these shapes and colors in my bowl and it tasted so awesome. 

In Poland, there was no concept of organic or need to be too discerning about food for the sake of health. Farmers just didn’t use chemicals — pretty much everything was organic by default. Even though my father was a professor of Economics and Agriculture, my parents didn’t know how farming worked here in the US. They didn’t know that the quality of food was so variable. I don’t think they thought too hard about it. Their attitude was “here’s a plate of food. Eat it. And definitely don’t be picky about it.” In Polish there is a term for someone who is  picky with food: wybredna. It’s not a flattering term. I remember hearing it used many times in a dismissive way. I remember thinking I didn’t want that label, and that I didn’t really have a choice when it came to food. I should just not ask questions and eat what I’m given. 

I remember my mom would cook chicken soup from scratch if one of us got sick, but other than that I never considered that food was closely related to health. I knew that there were some foods that didn’t make me feel good, for example tomato sauce and onions, but I didn’t want to rock the boat so I never said or did anything about it. 

When I left for college … that’s when things got fun. I felt for the first time like wow, I’m free! I can choose whatever I want to eat. That was so thrilling to me. I would have cereal for dinner and pizza for breakfast. I loved Wheat Thins, and at the time I thought eating Wheat Thins was me “being healthy.” I had a lot of diet soda, coffee, Dunkin Donuts light and sweet coffee with plenty of milk and sugar, M&Ms, and probably a Snickers bar every day. I had no foundation around how to choose food and I had no idea what I was doing, or if or what the consequences of these choices would be. 

That phase didn’t last too long — I started to gain weight and feel terrible. I was introduced to the concept of dieting for the first time. I switched to Fiber One cereal and salads because others seemed to believe these were healthy. I had no idea what was healthy, no one had ever taught me … I was listening to what was out there in the media. The Atkins diet was popular. I gave up carbs and ate Atkins bars and Slim Fast shakes. In hindsight, gross processed stuff.

That’s when my hair started falling out and where my health journey really started. I was tired often. I didn’t recognize it at the time as a sign that my health was slipping. I thought it was my personality … that I just didn’t like going out and couldn’t function after 10pm. For a few years things went on like this. I was definitely eating better than when I’d first started college, but my diet still wasn’t great. I was eating more veggies and rolled up cheese and deli meats.

When I was 25, my boyfriend at the time read The Caveman Diet. As a couple we decided we would try a paleo lifestyle, which was great because it eliminated processed foods. I really noticed then how much better I felt. 

I kept adjusting from the baseline concept of paleo until things felt right in my body. There are still elements that I still follow today, but I do incorporate oatmeal and beans and have reintroduced some other things that aren’t necessarily paleo but are still real food and nutritious. The core concept of minimally processed and whole foods is still so important to me. 

3 years into eating this way, I was absolutely convinced by how impactful food was to health. I had so much more energy than years before and felt like a whole new person.

I thought: how can I take this even further and figure out why my hair is falling out? It had started thinning at 21 but didn’t get better. Outsiders didn’t really notice, but I did. 

I thought that maybe it wasn’t caused by my diet but this other thing I was consuming: birth control. It was always in the back of my mind that I was taking this thing that wasn’t natural. I read a PopSugar article about a girl who went off birth control and her hair grew back. I’d tried going off birth control when I started the paleo diet but my body had freaked out then — I got acne all over my neck and chin and just felt terrible at the time. I didn’t want the same thing to happen.

I committed to figuring out how to go off birth control in a way that would make me happy. And I thought that in order to do this I was going to need to assemble a “healing team.” In hindsight, I have no idea how I thought of that. I think generally I felt there were a lot of elements at play and I wanted to approach this from multiple angles with multiple tools.

I sought out an acupuncturist, nutritionist, and a naturopath. They were SO supportive and helpful. They helped me to get to know my body. With the nutritionist (her name is Karyn Duggan and by the way and she’s incredible) I did elimination diets, stool tests, and tested the acid levels in my stomach. The naturopath taught me about herbs and supplements to take to get off birth control in a safe way. The acupuncturist was wonderful as well and felt like he really helped me to manage changes going on in my body.

I had a good experience going off birth control. At least, so much better than before. It wasn’t perfect, I still had some acne and challenges, but I felt like I would get through them with the help of the team I assembled.

Then I found Alisa Vitti and Flo Living. I went through that program and it completely cleared my skin up and I noticed my hair was starting to grow back. In that program she goes through the biology and anatomy of the female body and I learned so much. I couldn’t believe I was just getting to know my body at the age of 30. I have a masters degree. I can code. And yet I had no idea how my body worked. 

I’m so happy with where my relationship with food is today. I love food. It’s so healing. But our relationship has had its ups and downs. When I did those elimination diets I realized how many foods had been making me feel sick and I became afraid of food for a time. I was nervous and afraid that something would touch my plate or that I’d accidentally eat something that would make me feel sick. Thankfully this passed once I really healed my gut and realized I was strong enough to be able to reintroduce foods back into my diet. This really drove home for me that the body is cyclical … it changes, it heals. What it needs at one point in life is not the same as what it needs later. 

But now I am loving food, loving how it makes me feel, and feeling so much gratitude for food. Breakfast is still my favorite meal and I make these doctored up overnight oats that I LOVE. I put in a drizzle of sunflower butter, bee pollen, carob chips, coconut yogurt, fresh fruit … it’s so delicious to me and I enjoy it so much. 

I wish for others that they can feel this way, too. I see people I love around me using food for comfort which is awesome and great — we all need to enjoy our food. But I wish they would also see the connection between how food plays such a deep role in their health. I think they “know” this on the surface, but they don’t really know … they haven’t seen it play out in their own bodies. They don’t grasp how powerful it is yet. I wish that everyone could see how powerful it can be — and not necessarily because of a health crisis." 

Aleks has translated her food journey and amassed expertise and has become a certified Functional Nutrition Guide and launched her first online course that helps others understand the foundations of good health and understand how their bodies work.  You can learn more about the course and Aleks here:

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