There are times when I go out to dinner with new friends or a group of colleagues and choose to pass on dessert or that second glass of wine. I get a variety of comments from, “You are so good.. how can you not eat dessert??” to “You look great, why are you skipping dessert? Go ahead and enjoy yourself.”

What many of these people do not know is that I am a food and sugar addict. Not only that, but I was a closet eater growing up and have had a lifelong battle with body dysmorphia. It seems completely unbelievable to many. Here I am, the co-founder and CEO of an online community-driven wellness company where we host challenges to help people eliminate most of the foods I have been (and, as an addict, still am) addicted to. But isn’t that how we fall into our most passionate work? We live it, we know it, we relate to it, and we want nothing more than to help others overcome the very things we have fought tooth and nail to conquer.

How it All Began…
I grew up with a family that was not fit, not active and definitely not conscious of the latest health trends. I enjoyed after-school snacks like mini-pizzas, daily sodas, nightly ice cream after dinner and, even more, weekend trips to 31 Flavors with my mom for double (or on a super-good night triple!) scoop sundaes!

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Unconsciously, sugar became something I relied on for many things: to lift my spirits, to cure my boredom, to distract me from school work and to make me a hero when my friends would come over – no one had the kind of pantry stash that I did. And it wasn’t just sugar that I turned to. Food, in general, became a comfort to me as I grew up. I went from a tween riding my bike to 7 Eleven to binge on candy (which I would hide in my room), to a sixteen year-old hitting up the drive-thrus in desperate need of French fries or hot apple pies when no one was looking. Needless to say, this took a toll on both my physical and emotional well-being.

While I was inexplicably fortunate enough to never gain an extraordinary amount of weight, I did carry around enough inflammation that the word “chubby” could easily have been used to describe me – in my mind, at least. I am sure the body dysmorphia grew out of the secretive way I ate, which led to a lot of guilt and self-loathing. Intuitively, I knew how unhealthy all of it was for me. The sugar from both sweets and other processed foods left me completely and utterly emotionally imbalanced. I spent my childhood to young-adult years riding the ups and downs of an emotional rollercoaster. My parents just thought I was moody. Ping-ponging between feelings of happiness and sadness disrupted my school work, my focus and my self-confidence and I was regularly sick. Not one person or doctor ever questioned my diet or lack of exercise.

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The pattern continued into my college years, where I tried too many diet pills to count. But what good are diet pills when you exchange food for drinking? Yes, I was the weekend keg stand queen and a late night taquito junkie. Yet, I was surprised that at the start of each new week, anxiety would hit; tears, fears and promises to myself that I would stop eating and drinking my way to fun. Nonetheless, I would soon find myself in another drive-thru or drinking with friends.

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The Cycle Finally Ends
Years of these habits finally came to an end at the age of 29 when my mom passed away from lung cancer. It was not only her death, but a cancer diagnosis for my father and my sister one year later, that truly caused me to do a complete 180. For the first time in my life, I took my health into my own hands. I started by finding a trainer who threw me into a hardcore bootcamp. It was intense, but fun. Fitness led to a desire to look deeper into my nutritional habits.
I took baby steps, and went from sugar addict to Splenda junkie. I started drinking protein shakes and spent a few solid years on the low-fat, sugar-free train. Of course, I dropped weight. And I even competed in a figure show! Yet, something still wasn’t right. My body looked great, but my mind and emotions were still riding a giant wave just waiting to come crashing down. My hormones were all over the place.

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In 2006, on a mission to understand myself better, I became a certified fitness trainer and began learning about nutrition. I attended a life-altering workshop with JJ Virgin and learned all about the paleo and primal lifestyle. I understood that chemical sweeteners and so-called “healthy” packaged goods were just as harmful for me as white sugar and Hostess. I learned a lot about grains and the problems we have with them in their current processed form. And, I learned that all of these things, along with the foods I had already eliminated from my diet, were the possible cause of my hormonal issues and mood swings. Oh, and the eczema I had somehow began to develop? The result of over-consumption of peanut butter!

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I made a personal decision to do a 30-day whole food challenge, giving up the most universally inflammatory foods, including my beloved peanut butter!
Within 30 days, I kicked Splenda to the curb, started substituting my morning oatmeal for sweet potatoes and doubled my veggie and fat intake. It was almost exactly at that 30 day mark that I also began to notice a difference in my energy, my focus and, let’s be honest, my bathroom habits – hallelujah! I felt stable. I actually liked myself and my body. I felt amazing and kept weight off with ease. After the 30 days, I began to experiment with some of the foods I had eliminated. I realized that dairy was out of the question, peanut butter was crack for me, non-gluten grains like basmati rice and amaranth worked well for my body, but gluten, quinoa and corn immediately bloated me.

The eye-opening results of this personal experiment served as the launching pad for The 30 Clean. I wanted nothing more than to share my personal journey with everyone, especially my personal training clients. I became a holistic health coach and have since had the pleasure of watching hundreds of personal clients and now thousands of 30 Clean challengers transform their lives. While, at first glance, eating clean may seem restrictive and intimidating to some, our 30-day challenges are an incredibly effective and simple way of hitting the “reset” button for your body, so you can begin with a clean slate and find the perfect nutritional plan that works for your lifestyle.

I believe wholeheartedly in balance, moderation and living a joyful life! I also know that sometimes it takes a little dedication and mindfulness to achieve the things we desire most in life, like feeling and looking our personal best. When you add to that individual focus a degree of accountability and a supportive community of like-minded individuals, success is almost guaranteed. Once you have the knowledge and once you truly give yourself the gift of a whole food diet, the emotional and physical changes you receive are worth their weight in gold!
Join our national challenge or try it on your own, with our 7-Day or 30-Day Simple Start programs. You truly will Come Back to Life!

In peace, balance + blessings,
Heather Hemmer