Ella Leché: Food as Medicine

When dealing with serious health issues, veering off the mainstream medical path can be scary at best. It takes a lot of courage to look for healing options that might not be your doctor's first choice. Ella Leché found the strength and determination to do just that when she was suffering from multiple ailments. Her journey led her through months of tedious dietary restrictions and confronting her emotional attachments to food.

Food blogger, designer and mom, Leché used to eat what she thought was a healthy diet. She ate a ton of vegetables, drank a lot of water and also ingested her share of processed foods, meat and refined carbs as well. When it came to food, Leché thought she knew it all. "I ate salads; I ate home-cooked meals. I thought I was healthy," she says.

It took a health crisis for Leché to realize that her "healthy" diet wasn't healthy enough. When her daughter was four months old, she experienced a crippling autoimmune disorder called myasthenia gravis, along with depression and anxiety. Her instincts told her to overhaul her diet.

Through the process of food elimination and trial and error and a good dose of perseverance, Leché found that food was a primary culprit in her illness and her overall well-being. She learned that she feels best when eating a diet of mostly plant-based foods, with lots of vegetables, sea vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, nuts and healthy oils. She no longer eats any meat, dairy or eggs but does occasionally eat small wild fish.

"My family's day-to-day foods are focused around vegetables, and the grains are an add-in. If I make a pasta dish, there are about 50 percent more vegetables than pasta," she says.

Leché is a success story of treating illness with food, and she has learned the difficult lesson of viewing a restricted diet as empowerment rather than deprivation.

The Emotional Side of Food

Through the process of overhauling her diet, Leché got very close to the emotional nerve attached to food. That emotions are entangled with food makes all the sense in the world to Leché. "People form emotional attachments to food all the time; in fact, this is how we live, how we survive and thrive—through food. It is naturally something we think about, crave and look for when we want to feel comforted and happy. Eating is an emotional experience because we are emotional people."

Growing up, Leché ate a lot of home-cooked European meals with meat and potatoes, white bread and pasta. "My mom always cooked from scratch, and she built a beautiful foundation that food should be made with love and enjoyed by a family together around a table. Because of this, I felt I had a healthy relationship with foods, and I craved these foods from a young age."

It wasn't until she tried to eliminate certain foods from her diet, such as wheat, a big one in a European diet, that Leché felt a lot of negative energy around her decision. "First, I struggled with substituting other grains for wheat; but it's hard to look for new foods when you're stuck in your old ways. My husband also loved wheat breads, fresh crusty buns and pasta, and it was hard to have these temptations around when I tried to make health improvements in a very difficult and fragile time of my life. The same difficulties came when I wanted to stop eating meat and dairy."

Over time, she learned to eat less of these foods and even omit them for several weeks, then months. She grew confident in her own kitchen and relearned to cook meals that were mostly gluten-free and vegan. "But the rest of my family ate all the regular beloved family meals that I used to love, and when I showed up to a family dinner, even over a year later, and everyone knew my eating restrictions, a surge of emotion hit me when the dinner was served and I couldn't eat much from the whole dinner table. I heard things like, 'Oh, but you can eat the pie filling'; 'You can pick the vegetables from this stew.'"

Leché wasn't prepared for these family dinners, which she had always associated with comfort and love. "There was no love on those special occasions or holidays anymore. I had my weakest moments around these times at the dinner table," she says.

It was another learning curve. She had to change her attitude, lower expectations and stop feeling like a victim. She learned to call in advance and remind her family that she didn't eat certain foods. Now she usually brings her own dish and sometimes it's all she can eat. But she focuses on the social aspects of the get-together instead of the food.

Staying on Course

When the pressures of running her own business and parenting begin to get to her and anxiety or depression rears its ugly head, Leché has learned to stop dwelling on it and get up and do something. Gone are the days of wallowing in bed, miserable.

On those days, Leché's first action item is to evaluate her current nutrition. "I try to assess my recent nutritional intake; perhaps I could have low magnesium, vitamin B12 or vitamin D that could be contributing to these self-pity days." She might whip up a salad with a slew of vegetables and some good quality plant-based protein and hemp oil, with a squirt of fresh lemon as the dressing. (Visit her blog for some great salad recipes.)

Next step is to get some physical activity. "It's usually the days when I don't feel like a workout that I need it the most. So I'll do some crunches, jump on a skipping rope or go outside for a walk or to the park with my daughter. When I am outside, I focus on deep breathing for a few minutes, really letting the oxygen heal me from the inside out."

The last step to changing her mindset is changing her mental state. "I try to create moments of happiness rather than sit and wait for them. I try to plan things that are fun and create fun memories for our family'a simple picnic at our favorite spot by the lake is a couple of hours well spent that we will treasure for a long time as a family."

It's been a long haul for Leché, who's had her share of dark days. But taking the time to discover what foods work for her and then taking the time to prepare them have changed her life around. "I now see a clear link between health problems, depression, anxiety and other mood disorders; and prevention of possible health problems is possible all through the food we put into our mouths.

"Our bodies are naturally designed to thrive and live optimally; we just need to adjust our path sometimes. I now want to help and inspire others to take charge of their health and happiness and live better in their best health." She does this via her blog, Pure Ella, where you'll find the recipes she's created, tested and enjoys, along with tips and inspiration for finding joy in the simpler things in life.