We Sit Down With Plant-Based Doctor And Autoimmune Disease Cookbook Author, Dr. Joyce Choe

The journey to combating a health issue can be a challenging task; from overwhelming differing nutritional advice to those who doubt your lifestyle choices. Plant-based board-certified ophthalmologist Dr. Joyce has been there, and she’s always had an eye for health! Her vision is to help others successfully transition their diet, with key regards to health issues she personally experienced. Sometimes changing your diet won’t receive positive recognition, but Dr. Joyce talks about how she viewed the situation through a different lens!

A plant-based diet isn’t a trend, it’s a lifestyle:

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.” -Hippocrates

Dr. Joyce and I met through social media, and it has been a blessing to know about her inspirational and motivational health journey. Let’s jump right in!

You grew up on a vegetarian diet—Why did you decide to progress your vegetarian diet to a plant-based diet (vegan)?

During college, my roommate and I ate a very basic plant-based diet consisting of beans, rice, and salad. We didn’t really cook. It was fine until I would go home, and then I’d develop digestion issues, and swelling in the extremities. Those health issues disappeared when I ate a simpler diet, which was mostly when I was on the college campus. My parents and I were always interested in health. However, I discovered there was much to it than I thought. We ate typical foods to our community culture, like veggie links, Campbell’s soup, and such. One day, I ate these processed foods again, and I got the worst indigestion. It’s all vegetarian, and we grew up with those types of faux meats and processed foods. However, I discovered that not all foods are healthy simply because it is vegetarian.  

Once I was in medical school, that is when I started thinking about eating healthier, and I progressed to consuming more healthy plant-based foods.

Why did you focus on autoimmune health specifically? 

It was because of my own personal health issues. It wasn’t enough for me to just adopt a plant-based diet; I had to take things further because plant-based foods can also be unhealthily processed. As mentioned above, I was accustomed to eating processed foods, tons of pasta, etc. I always experienced chronic muscle pain and severe weakness especially during residency in medical school. I realized I really had to do something about it. In 2011, I visited my friend my Mercy, and that is when I found out I had leaky gut. I had read about this condition years prior, but the recommendations I received were implausible.

“It’s been a lifelong fascination of mine to learn about diet and lifestyle choices affect chronic disease and how to use safe and natural remedies to further promote healing. This interest has grown deeper, as it has become more personal.” 

What was your experience with leaky gut syndrome like?

I experienced severe weakness; the point where I was afraid I couldn’t properly hold my sister’s baby without dropping her. When I went water skiing, I couldn’t get out of the water; it was a struggle! I couldn’t hang from a monkey bar. My symptoms developed into experiencing electrical shocks, nerve pain, scarring of neurovascular bundles. I struggled with debilitating pain for 20 years after being put on antibiotics.

Could you share your journey to healing? How do you feel now, overall?

I was asked to discontinue nightshade foods, corn, and soy since they are highly associated with food sensitivities. I didn’t want to give up more food than I already was, and it was starting to get expensive. My condition worsened. A practitioner recommended an elimination diet, and it did help tremendously. In 2015, I tried to reintroduce soy, corn, and other foods into my diet. Once again, I started getting sick—my voice sounded congested, my eyes were red and weepy. In 2016, I went to a lifestyle center called Years Restored, and I was put on a 10-day detox. I was drinking healing drinks. After 3 days, I had no more pain, my nighttime breathing difficulty went away.  

Prior to this, I had wondered, “Why are seemingly healthy foods causing problems?”

Part of it lies in the food cooking process, chemicals, etc. There are certain things that our bodies can’t tolerate. It works well to soak and sprout legumes, nuts, grains, and seeds. This renders the foods much more digestible. I also avoid foods that I tested positive on during the test, and I also avoid GMO foods and other foods that commonly cause sensitivities. I eat organic foods as much as possible.

What is your main focus as a plant-based advocate?

My whole purpose in doing this is to provide health support. When I was going through my journey to find healing, I didn’t have much support. Certain health practitioners categorize you into 1) Part of a group of people who are just sensitive to “everything”, or 2) that it’s all your head, 3) or that you need to explore diet modifications; “your plant-based diet isn’t working, you need a paleo diet, etc.” These are the complications along the journey.

What was it that made you want to start a blog and cookbook?

After attending the program at Years Restored lifestyle center in 2016, I was really impressed to see my friend Mercy experience a similar journey as mine. Mercy was impressed that she should start a lifestyle center in California with her husband. Some of the largest weaknesses with lifestyle programs is that there is no follow-up. People end up going back to their lifestyle. My concern is, how can people receive support to continue their journey to health; what platform can people get information and support? What about those who simply can’t afford these lifestyle programs? I wanted to create an online community, where people can share their experiences and not feel isolated or “different”, so I started a Facebook group (Gut Health with Dr. Joyce and Mercy), YouTube channel, and blog.

The reason why I started the cookbook is to help people stay on a better path to health. We believe the scientifically sound diet is the plant-based diet. As far as a Christian personally, I believe the Bible is true. The cookbook has some scientific and Bible references. 

What are your thoughts on this movement towards veganism?  

I’m very encouraged to see lots of people interested in doing what they think is the right thing; that’s what we’re all trying to do. We’re all attracted to different reasons. For example, animal support-It’s great to have a compassionate heart towards animals. It impacts our psyche – mental well-being. When we have God’s love in our hearts, and we understand our role as His children, it influences how we treat those around us including animals. Some change their diet for health reasons. I look at it through all those perspectives. Veganism makes sense from an environmental point of view.  

What is the most positive result of your journey to healing? 

I needed mental, emotional, spiritual strength outside of myself. I was tempted to give up many times. One of the greatest gifts I received through this was being able to come to a point where I could surrender everything to God and learn to trust Him. I told God: If this is the best my life ever gets, I will be ok with it–whether I lose my job, my health, even lose my dreams of what I thought my life would be. I learned to claim God’s promises and make them my own. I especially claimed the promise in Isaiah 58 –that your health springs forth when you help other people. I thought I would test God on these things, and experiment with ways to go about doing that. People have also been a great fit for me. The more I seek to educate on health, the more I meet new people. I found a lot of love and joy in helping those who are struggling with health issues. It gave me energy because I was working towards something greater than myself.  

What are people’s general reactions to your plant-based diet choices? Have there been times when it was difficult for you to explain it to someone because they were so against it?

The plant-based part is not as big of a deal as much as it was when I started carrying around my own food everywhere. I take my food with me when I go to work or someone’s house. I don’t want people to feel burdened to have to cook for me or to do anything special. People have reacted – especially when I first started. People would laugh and think I was being excessive. Over the years, more and more people are experiencing health issues like mine, and reactions are not an issue as it was before. Maybe I’ve become accustomed to it that I don’t notice it anymore. At times I wish I could fit in; I’ll even eat at a place and bear the consequences. I understand the social pressures that people experience when making dietary changes. However, when you’ve experienced the possibility of disability, you view things differently.

“I hope to be able to use the experience that I have been given to help others find the root cause of their problems, to regain and maintain faith in God and humanity, and to have courage to hope again.”


Get the Autoimmune Plant-Based Cookbook here.

Grace Jauwena
Grace Jauwena

Grace Jauwena is a health coach that focuses on plant-based nutrition and natural remedies. She strives to help others thrive holistically, and is pursuing a doctorate degree in natural medicine. She loves to cook, create recipes, style food, and take photos. In her free time, she explores new foods, hiking trails, and beaches with her husband, and spends time with family and friends.

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