Based out of Hamburg, Germany, Melanie Lotos was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and was wheelchair-bound for some time at the age of twenty-seven. She was told that she would never walk normally or without pain again. Defying the odds, Melanie adopted an organic grain-free vegan diet, rich in fresh wild herbs and greens, and found that after only two weeks, her symptoms had considerably improved. She continued her journey to health by water fasting in Paraguay and by adopting a raw vegan diet. In the following article, Melanie tells an inspirational story about the life-changing journey she took to take charge of her life and her health.
I was born in a little old farmhouse in the Black Forest in Germany. I am the first child to my mother Karin Elizabeth, who is an artist, yoga teacher and Ayurvedic massage therapist, and to my father Markus, who is best described as an orchid lover and jungle enthusiast. I have one younger brother. His name is Sascha Benjamin. As a child, I attended many different schools and eventually chose to live in a boarding school that specialized in music and sports. Over the course of my youth, two classmates—who were from different parts of the world—invited me to stay with their families, and I was lucky to travel to Egypt and India with them.
After completing my A level in 2003, I traveled extensively in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Australia where I spent time in the area known as Arnhem Land. It was at this time that I developed an interest in global foods and culture. Two years later, I enrolled in Media Arts at the State School of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe in Germany. I completed my studies, and for the next two years, I traveled back and forth between Argentina and Germany. In 2012, I completed my Master-Exhibition in Berlin—it was called “The Institute of Health and Happiness” —and in September 2013, I left home to travel to the United States, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
I am now thirty-one years old, and I live in Hamburg.
I continue to travel for food, art and health related reasons, and have seen most of Europe, Iran, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Mexico. Over the last few years, I have been invited to be a chef at the Woodstock Fruit Festival just outside of Albany, NY. I have worked as a freelance chef at extraVeganz in Berlin, and I co-created the menu for Gratitude Organic Eatery in Munich. I currently work as a holistic health coach, and am certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. I specialize in raw food and whole food nutrition, as well as in mindset therapy.
In 2010, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation in the joints. I had suffered from a lot of different symptoms prior to this diagnosis. I had various gastrointestinal issues, which doctors simply liked to refer to as ‘irritable bowel syndrome.’ In 2005, I had an anal fistula, which is a very nasty thing. As a kid, I often suffered from sinusitis, and I remember that I took a lot of antibiotics. My tonsils were removed when I was eleven years old, and as a teen, I suffered from PMS. My emotional and mental state was chaotic. I felt that I was crazy and depressed. I thought that I could easily be diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. Drama queen. Artist to be.
According to Dr. Daniel Amen, American psychiatrist and New York Times best-selling author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” insane is the new normal. He states that depression, obesity and Alzheimers’ have to be understood as interrelated conditions. Depression has become one of the greatest killers of our time. I had not known about Dr. Amen when I was a teenager, but I knew that the way I thought about myself was unhealthy. Although I was not obese, I was carrying around my share of excess fat and did not feel good about myself. I did not respect my body and mind.
I drank excessively on a regular basis.
When I was a teenager in boarding school, I experimented with drugs—from marijuana to cocaine and ecstasy. I used drugs regularly over the years. From a very young age, I was on a quest for personal development and self-discovery, and the drugs were part of this journey. I was not an addict, but I definitely used drugs regularly. I was living in a boarding school at the time, which was more fun than it sounds like. I enjoyed the community living and all of the social activities, like performing in the theater and singing in the choir. Nevertheless, smoking pot was a daily occurrence and there was a lot of alcohol involved also.
Weekends gave me the opportunity to break free from school. For me, it was like entering a different world. On weekends, I would go out with a group of girls to party. On almost every weekend for two years, we partied from Friday to Sunday, including after-hour parties. The mid-to-late 90's was an amazing time. We were so young. It was a lot of fun. Techno, outdoor goa parties, and underground clubs. We mixed different substances like MDMA and amphetamine. Thankfully, I knew my limits and always made sure to surround myself with good people. We took care of one other. Not all of us were so lucky.
When I was twenty or twenty-one, I went through a phase when I regretted taking all of these drugs. I do not regret these experiences anymore. I would not be the person I am now had I not had those experiences. They are part of me.
While I believe that psychoactive drugs, in the correct dosage and when used in the right way, can help some people experience a higher form of consciousness, I was not using drugs to raise my consciousness when I was a teenager. My only intention was to party, and in retrospect I realize that I was using drugs and alcohol to escape from a deeper emotional trauma, hoping that it would fill some kind of void.
Having said that, I know that there was something magical about these experiences, and that in a sense, another realm of reality had opened up for me to explore. Just as the conscious use of drugs can bring forth a deeper awareness and a greater understanding of the unlimited self, similarly, the healing powers of plant medicine can have powerful and positive effects on people in difficult life situations. These days, I choose the path of ancient wisdom and natural medicine instead of that of prescription drugs.
Prior to my RA diagnosis, I had developed pain in the joints of my pinky finger, and in my right wrist and knee. The pain had become almost unbearable. To control the pain, I took between five and ten painkillers a day. Eventually, it got to the point where I couldn’t walk normally anymore.
I decided that it was time to visit the doctor.
Several months later, after diagnosing me with rheumatoid arthritis, my doctors told me that I would never walk without pain again. They told me I would have to take immunosuppressant medication for an undefined period of time. In the worst case, they said, it would be for the rest of my life. I knew instantly that I wouldn’t follow their advice. Although I had this crazy party life, I also knew about natural healing, organic foods, and the importance of rest and being surrounded by good friends. It was clear to me that I had to change my situation, and that I was the only one who could do it.
Actually, it all started with a feeling. Despite the doctor’s diagnosis, I was almost certain that I did not suffer from a serious disorder like rheumatoid arthritis. Something inside of me knew better. It was very obvious to me, and to others, that my life was out of balance. My mother, who knows about the healing power of our own bodies, sent me emails everyday telling me, “You are not sick; just change your lifestyle.”
I did a lot of research and read all I could find about natural healing. I learned that it was possible to reduce inflammation by making sure that my body was more alkaline. Within a week, I stopped smoking, drinking, eating meat, dairy and any other animal products. I cut out pasta, bread and all other grain-based products and added more greens, fruits and filtered water to my diet. I stopped consuming anything that would promote inflammation, and I added herbs and plants that would help with the detoxification of my body.
The results were startling.
In two weeks, the pain had diminished.
I could walk again—and almost without any pain at all, and the stinging, irritating pain in my right wrist had disappeared. I could put weight on my hands, and I did not feel the constant burning in my joints anymore. The inflammation had subsided.
I read many books, and learned that grains can promote inflammation, so I started experimenting with different foods. One week, I would eat only green vegetables and fruits—and I found that I felt better. Then, the following week, I would add grains—and I found that the pain was worse. Removing grains from my diet made a big difference in reducing the intensity of the pain. I did not know about the elimination diet back then, but that was basically what I was doing. I left foods out of my diet, and then I’d introduce them again later on to see how my body would react.
It was a challenge for me, but the decision was an easy one to make. Try something radical or take pills and suffer. I did not want to continue on the road to becoming a victim. I knew that much.
I need to mention that I was very fortunate. A month after my diagnosis, I had gone back to Argentina where my boyfriend at that time was living. The support I got from him played a crucial role in my recovery, and the support of my family and school made all these drastic changes in my life possible. My school, for example, allowed me to extend my stay in South America, and recognized my healing journey as an art project. My mother was behind me one hundred percent. She supported my dietary changes, and the choice I made to go to a retreat center to fast.
My boyfriend at the time was my greatest supporter. I felt very safe with him, and for the first time in a long time, I felt deeply connected to another person. His love for me sparked a desire to love myself for who I was. He saw through all the layers of pain and doubt. He gave me a lot of space so I could discover the reasons I had got sick in the first place. I would even say we were brought together for that very reason. It was "serendipity" or some higher force that brought us together.
I am very grateful to him.
When I did make the decision to go vegan, and later raw, I did it overnight.
I had already begun exploring the world of superfoods back in 2010 when I was traveling through Argentina, Paraguay and Costa Rica. Superfoods are plants that are rich in mineral content, protective phyto-chemicals, micronutrients and antioxidants. Berries, green leafy vegetables, papayas, pineapples, grapes, green tea, turmeric and ginger are considered superfoods.
While living in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, I discovered a whole new world of superfoods – like chia, spirulina, maca, and seaweed - and I learned about lifestyles and healing protocols like natural hygiene and fruitarianism. Argentina is famous for its meats and wine, right? Right. And I had had lots of it. But after my diagnosis, I started researching whether I could heal myself naturally. What I discovered was a completely different way of eating. I discovered the wacky world of raw food.
By then, I was already buying my fruits and vegetables at a gorgeous organic farmers market that was located at an old train station outside of Buenos Aires. I went there every weekend to do my shopping and to try out new things. There, I rediscovered the incredible power of wild greens, which was not new to me—I had known about them since I was a child—but I hadn’t yet made the effort to include them in my diet. I also discovered a lot of vegan and raw vegan restaurants in Buenos Aires, which had not been of interest to me before.
As part of my healing process, I did liver cleanses and colon hydrotherapy, and I learned as much as I could about wild herbs and herbal tinctures and supplements. I tried EVERYTHING. The world of raw foods and superfoods was not entirely new to me. I had grown up with hippie parents who grew a lot of their own produce and also traveled a lot. But I started to view it from a different point of view. I understood that changing the way I ate was more than a culinary adventure. I discovered that I could actually heal and change my whole existence.
I knew I would have to get to know who I thought I was and the essence of what made up my belief systems. At the age of twenty-seven, I considered myself a world citizen, an art student, a free spirit—but when I was diagnosed with RA, I felt reckless, fat and depressed. I had no real understanding of self-love and no sense of ambition.
Oh, I was in for a ride. ;)
I would change on a cellular level.
I can't remember when I first heard the term “epigenetics,” but I remember watching an intriguing German documentary about it a while back. Epigenetics is a field of study that focuses on changes in gene expression caused by certain base pairs in our DNA that are activated or de-activated by chemical reactions. It's about what we inherit and how our environment shapes us and creates us. What we eat and what we think have major influences on our physical and mental health. According to epigenetics, we have the power to influence, restructure, and correct our DNA. In Dr. Bruce Lipton’s words, “The moment you change your perception, is the moment you rewrite the chemistry of your body.”
Through my mother, I found out about a German couple, both homeopaths living in Paraguay, who started a raw food community called El Paraiso. I wrote to them to explain my situation, and they invited me to start my raw food healing journey there. One month prior to my departure, I stopped taking all medication including pain killers. At the time, I was still experiencing some pain and was exhibiting many detox symptoms. I was already taking spirulina, and it was helping me immensely with these symptoms. I also learned about MSM and had started taking that as well.
By then, I had been on a vegan diet for two months. My knee was still extremely swollen but I could already feel a difference in my body. I had already lost a lot of weight and my outlook on life in general had changed.
Immediately upon arrival, the owners of El Paraiso introduced me to the practice of visualization. It was difficult for me to sit down and envision myself walking pain free again. I had never really taken meditation very seriously before and I thought, “How could sitting here and WISHING to heal help me?” But after a while, I began to get into it—and it felt amazing. Surrounded by nature, I was breathing fresh air and drinking clean spring water. I added more fresh greens to my diet, and left out all processed foods. I ate only raw vegan food, and this supported my body as I focused on healing myself.
After only two days at El Paraiso, I could not believe my eyes. All of the water in my knee was gone. The swelling had disappeared. I could run. For the first time in ten months, I could run without any pain at all.
It was like a miracle to me.
The raw vegan diet helped my body get rid of all of the toxins in my body. Energy that was normally used to digest heavy foods was now being re-directed toward healing and rejuvenating my body. I practiced yoga and visualization techniques on a daily basis.
I also decided to water fast for ten days.
As time passed, I became more mindful of my thoughts and started to shed the layers. I lost about twenty kilograms in three months. It was a lot of weight in a rather short period of time but it felt amazing. I was glowing. I had never felt this good before. Many emotional issues came up during this period, but I was not ready to deal with them yet. I refused to believe that the origin of my health problems lay way back in my childhood. I did not want to deal with that possibility, and chose to stay on the physical side of healing for another six months—before I started to dig even deeper.
My detox had started at El Paraiso, but it continued on a more spiritual and emotional level when I traveled to the Farm of Life in Costa Rica. It was my first volunteer position as a raw chef, and I had the pleasure of getting to know the retreat’s wonderful hosts Brian and Jody Calvi. They, in turn, referred me to raw food author and consultant, Ka Sundance from RawFoodFamily. I have had the pleasure of meeting Ka a few times since then, and thanks to his support, I attended his retreat as a chef in December 2010.
Opportunities began to come my way. Doors began to open.
I moved to Berlin in the spring of 2011. Shortly afterward, I found a heart dialogue therapist. I also did a workshop with the founders of Café Gratitude about forgiveness and emotional healing. I developed an interest in shamanic ceremonies and I took part in ceremonies like sweat lodges and plant medicine retreats. I felt that I needed to clear out a lot of the anger that I was carrying around with me. I had to forgive myself and some of the people in my past. It was time to face the truth and start taking care of myself.
By moving to the jungle, fasting and eating a raw vegan diet, I had created a pathway that would make choosing love possible, for myself and for others.
In time, I would join the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and I would begin to focus on my own personal growth. I would start my own business. I would take part in the Awesomeness Fest, and get to know some amazing people. This would lead me to an opportunity to take part in a camp at Burning Man in the desert in Nevada—for which I will be leaving shortly. I believe that when I made the decision to take care of myself, when I decided to reach out and make myself vulnerable to others, the universe responded and opened itself to me.
These days, I eat a diet consisting of fresh organic fruits and vegetables. I also eat nuts, seeds and so-called superfoods like spirulina, barley grass, chia, maca, chaga and reishi. I also take B12 and other bio-available supplements. More than anything else, I eat fresh greens.
In the beginning, I was very strict and dove headfirst into living a natural hygiene lifestyle, which is known in North America as the 80-10-10 diet. And I was learning from and working with raw foodies who lead a very pure low-fat raw vegan 80-10-10 lifestyle. So it took me quite some time to realize that I would not poison myself if I ate something cooked every once in a while.
Thanks to Frederic Patenaude who published a very cool book called Raw Freedom—which sheds some light on a lot of false science used by raw foodies—I eat cooked food occasionally when I’m traveling or out with friends.
Compared to what I used to eat in the past, the drugs I took, and the other reckless life choices I made, I can say that I eat very healthily now. It’s a tremendous improvement, and as time goes by, I continue to make better choices. Given all of the research on the benefits of a vegan diet for our health and the planet, I believe that it’s the way to go, and that it is possible to heal most diseases of affluence. I am living proof of that. But I also support experimenting with a high raw, plant-based diet that includes minimal, high-quality animal products.
With the choices I make, I want to create a world where people are inspired to go back to their roots to growing much of their own food for themselves or at least knowing where it really comes from. A world where people stop buying mass-produced meats and other animal products.
Although I do not live up to some of the standards set by the raw and vegan communities, I am an advocate for these amazing lifestyles—for making healthy choices for the planet and for yourself. I am what I eat, but I am more than what I eat. There is more to health than food. Our relationships, spirituality, careers, and our level of physical activity play a crucial role in our well-being and are the building blocks to achieving superior health.
Food is secondary, but it’s the fastest and most direct way to shed the layers, so we can take a deeper, more meaningful look at ourselves and the lives we lead, and so we can start building the lives we truly want.
What Melanie Eats in a Day:
I like to start with a glass of water and lemon when I get up. I go through phases where I drink matcha tea, green tea and pu-erh tea, often throughout the day.
For breakfast I enjoy mostly fruits. Right now, I like to start the day with seasonal fruits from Turkey and Italy, or berries from Germany. When I am in the tropics, I choose from a bountiful variety of fruits. Sometimes, when I am in Europe, I will buy a special box of fruit from Orkos, which exports mostly organic, pesticide-free and tree-ripened tropical fruits to Europe.
I also like to make fresh juices and smoothies in the morning. My favorite juice right now is carrot-ginger-cucumber-celery-lime juice. I also enjoy different kinds of smoothies, sometimes green smoothies with herbs or just plain fruit. I like to add a different mix of superfoods like maca, chaga, hemp seeds, msm, spirulina, chia or matcha to my juices and smoothies from time to time.
Some mornings I like to eat porridge made from quinoa or steel cut oats with fresh, homemade almond milk.
For lunch I will eat a salad or more fruits or even some steamed greens. Spinach and peas are high up on my list right now.
In the evenings, I like to prepare a dish with steamed or raw vegetables. I combine them with quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, or noodles made of corn, rice, buckwheat or sea vegetable pasta accompanied by a variety of tomato sauces, cooked or raw. I love to add coconut milk, ginger, nama shoyu and lots of fresh herbs to my meals. Cilantro and parsley are my favorites.
If I feel like eating something like bread or ice cream, I prefer to make it myself with the best and most natural ingredients I can find. For example, I like to bake my own buckwheat and spelt sourdough bread with sesame and pumpkin seeds. And it’s easy to make your own ice cream if you own a blender or juicer. You just need some frozen fruit, coconut milk and coconut sugar. Just bananas and dates will make a great ice cream too!
I enjoy simple dishes, and nothing can beat a great salad with tons of GREENS and a mango-ginger tomato dressing.
Melanie provides the following tips and advice for people who are suffering from serious or chronic illnesses:
1. Make the decision to take care of yourself. Take responsibility for your health, and start putting yourself and your health first.
2. Once you have made this decision, it is very important to have a support system in place. Make sure to let the people in your life know that you have made the decision to take care of your own health, and that this decision is important to you.
3. Consider joining a coaching program or connect with people who are on a similar journey.
4. I do not believe in the term ‘chronic illness’ per se. We are here as spiritual beings, and we are having a human experience. Health problems are part of this experience, and they can reveal so much about our greatness, and about those areas in our life where we need to dig deeper in order to grow. Instead of asking “why is this happening to me?” consider asking yourself “why is this happening FOR me?” I know that this is a very difficult thing to do, but when I learned to see things this way, to actually see all of the good in what seems like a really bad situation, things began to shift. To create awareness of your own ability to heal yourself is a very powerful thing.
5. I recommend that you spend some time alone and in silence. Go into nature.
6. Fast every once in a while and drink clean water.
7. Eat fresh green vegetables, and try eating all of the vegetables you’ve never tried before.
8. Explore the world of herbs. Drink herbal teas. Make juice. Drink coconut water. Infuse your water with lemon juice or fruit juice. Eat fruit for breakfast.
9. Sleep, rest and meditate MORE.
10. And remember, you don’t have to be perfect.
Image Credit: Used with Melanie Lotos’ permission