Natalie Kelley- The Woman Behind Blonde Gone Clean
Welcome to my first Women Empowerment Stories! Growing up, I compared myself a lot to other people and was always hard on myself. This with a couple other factors led to my eating disorder when I was a sophomore in high school. I was in the hospital for a while and over the years, worked with other mentors who helped me in my recovery. One of the main reasons for my eating disorder was having very low self-esteem. Having discovered this, I seek to help empower women to recognize their own uniqueness, embracing their individuality. I cannot achieve this alone and hence comes the Women Empowerment Stories, a place where I will share with you the stories of other women who faced challenges themselves and how they overcame them. From these stories, I hope more women will recognize that they are not struggling alone, learning the importance of self-love and confidence.
One of the first women I connected with was Natalie (“Nat”) Kelley, the woman behind Blonde Gone Clean. Natalie’s health and wellness story is truly an inspiration to many. Having been diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disease affecting the digestive system, in 2017, Nat hopes to be able to show others with autoimmune diseases, food intolerances, and other dietary restrictions that they can still live their lives fully. Without further ado, here is Natalie Kelley.
Can you provide a brief introduction of yourself (what you are currently doing, hobbies, etc.)
“My name is Natalie Kelley and I’m the blogger behind Blonde Gone Clean! I’m a soon-to-be 23-year-old but feel more like a 50-year-old most days. Old souls have more fun, right? I’m a certified personal trainer, soon-to-be certified holistic health coach and full-time health and wellness blogger. I spend my days testing paleo recipes, writing articles, working with companies and inspiring others to live their healthiest and happiest lives. Working for myself and being able to mesh my passions for nutrition, fitness, writing, graphic design and social media marketing (I was a mass communication major in college!) has been a dream come true. I love speaking out about my autoimmune disease, ulcerative colitis, on my blog and social media as well, as a way to show others the realities of living with a chronic illness. When I’m not working on the blog, baking/cooking or working out you can typically find me reading (I love anything foodie-related or Harry Potter), going on walks, perusing farmers markets, listening to podcasts or hanging out with my family.”
Why did you start your blog?
“I started my blog way back in 2015 as a simple hobby and a way to share my growing love of healthy living. I had always led a relatively healthy life growing up, but after I ran my first half marathon in June of that year (after my freshman year of college), my passion for health and wellness skyrocketed.
Starting Blonde Gone Clean gave me an outlet for this growing interest and a way to connect with others that shared these same passions. It honestly gave me a sense of community in the midst of college where I felt like an outsider due to these growing passions that weren’t seen as the “norm.” It’s amazing to see how my blog has ebbed and flowed as my health journey has ebbed and flowed as well. From dealing with grief, an eating disorder and exercise addiction a few years ago, to getting diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, to truly growing into my happiest and healthiest self, Blonde Gone Clean has been with me through it all. And it’s amazing to see how a simple hobby has turned into the biggest part of my life and my livelihood. Little 19-year-old Nat would never believe it!!”
How has being diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis changed your life?
“Oh man, how has it NOT changed my life would be an easier question to answer. Getting diagnosed in August of 2017 turned my whole world upside down. I had dealt with gut health issues for as long as I can remember but was told over and over that it was “just IBS,” but I knew something bigger was at play in my life. I just knew. My symptoms got a lot worse in the earlier part of the summer of 2017 so we finally resulted to doing more serious testing, which led to my diagnosis.”
“Although having ulcerative colitis makes me feel weak, tired and anxious at times, having it has also made me stronger, more confident, more empathetic, more grateful and more in-tune with my body.”
“Although getting diagnosed with a chronic illness isn’t a relief in and of itself, it felt like a relief to me. Knowing what was wrong meant I could finally take steps to feeling better. Although having ulcerative colitis makes me feel weak, tired and anxious at times, having it has also made me stronger, more confident, more empathetic, more grateful and more in-tune with my body. I’m stronger because I’ve seen me at my weakest and have come out the other side; I truly feel like I can tackle anything now. I’m more confident because having ulcerative colitis has made me have to truly accept me for me, even if that means choosing to stay in on a Friday night rather than go out with friends because it makes my body feel best.
It’s made me more empathetic because I know what it’s like to silently struggle, to look perfectly healthy but be sick on the inside; I know what it’s like to feel misunderstood because of an illness; I know what it’s like to hurt and struggle and have to heal from it all. I’m more grateful because, after being hospitalized, I’ve experienced what life is like when there’s almost no hope left and I feel so darn thankful each and every day that I feel good now, that my body is able to work out and move again, that I’m able to continue to follow my dreams despite my illness and I’m extra grateful for the people who stood by my side when I was my sickest.
And lastly, I’m more in-tune with my body because I know that all of my actions and decisions will ultimately affect my disease. I make choices every day that I know will help rather than hurt me and I’ve learned to notice every little sign my body gives me. It’s been so eye-opening and I’ve never felt so connected to my body before.”
What gave you the confidence to speak up about your medical condition? Were you afraid before and if so, what drove you forward?
“I was definitely afraid at first to talk about having ulcerative colitis because talking about that makes you vulnerable. I wasn’t completely strong or confident in my new diagnosis yet, so it felt like standing naked in front of a crowd when I first started talking about it on Blonde Gone Clean and on Instagram. I was also scared to share that I was on medication, because there is definitely a trend of western medicine shaming in the wellness blogging community. But once I started coming to terms with my disease and realized how many people I could potentially help, it became easier and easier.”
“what I do for my body is my individual decision”
“As far as medication goes, I no longer worry about judgement because what I do for my body is my individual decision and I know that the medication I’m now on truly gave me my life back in June after being in the hospital. Although I wish I could help myself through diet alone, I know for now it can only be part of the equation. But ultimately, knowing I was helping and inspiring others with chronic illnesses made it easier and easier to talk about it. Even if I can touch ONE life, my job is done and that makes me so happy.”
You have grown a large Instagram following over the years. What has been the most challenging part of this journey?
“I think the hardest part of the journey has been reminding myself not to place value in the numbers. I’ve grown 100% organically over the past 3 years so my growth felt slow at times, but I never was willing to compromise the trust of my current followers simply to gain more, un-authentic ones. It’s easy to get caught up in the number of followers, likes and comments, but I always just remind myself that that’s not what matters most. What matters is that I’m being authentically and genuinely ME, creating community and sharing content I love that helps and inspires others. The more I simply pour my heart, soul and creativity in to my platform, the less numbers seem to matter.”
What do you hope to accomplish through your blog in the future?
“Oh man, SO MUCH! Quite a bit is still under wraps, but there is so much fun coming in the new year. Since I’m studying to be a holistic health coach right now, the one thing I can say is that I will be taking one on one clients in 2019 and I couldn’t be more excited to expand my brand in that realm and truly start changing lives in a more direct way. Besides my secret projects, there will also be more events, meet-ups and fun content coming out!”
If you can give one message to your followers, what would it be?
“Just. Do. You.
Seriously, I know that sounds so silly and cheesy, but I wish someone had really ingrained that in my brain 4, 3 even just 2 years ago. I feel like in the past 6-8 months I have truly and finally 100% accepted me for ME. Because let me tell you, I’m quirky – I think I’m true life addicted to cauliflower even though I’ve learned it’s like the least addictive food, I’d rather stay in on a Friday night with a good book and go to bed at 9, I’m obsessed with cozy clothes and wearing double braids and truly don’t care what others think of me when I walk around my neighborhood in my goofy work from home outfits, I love Harry Potter and decaf black coffee and delicate squash more than anything and I probably think more deeply than the average 22-year-old. And you know what? I used to only semi-embrace those things, but still wish I fit in or was “normal” for my age. But I’ve finally realized being different has been my biggest blessing. It makes me, well ME and it makes me unique. Being different is never something to be ashamed of. So ditch the comparison and start living your authentic life without any worry of what others think of you.”
Thank you Nat for being here and sharing with us your story! To stay connected with Nat, follow her on Twitter @BlondeGC, Instagram @BlondeGoneClean, or Facebook and Pinterest!
Stay connected with me here to follow the Women Empowerment Stories or Instagram @astepfullofyou! I cannot wait to share with you other powerful stories! Thank you for stopping by!