Health,  Life

My Journey to Health, Part IV: The Overhaul

I was the Midwest good girl, straight A student, Division I athlete, MBA graduate, corporate business woman…I did everything that was asked of me and more, and look where it got me. Sick. I think sick for a reason though…I had more to learn, more to grow and more to give. My life needed a change of course.

Commitment, Changes and a Support System

Deciding to take a leave from work to focus 100% of my time and energy on my health was scary, but a major turning point in my life. Luckily I was building a support system around me, including incredible roommates who were so supportive of all the weird things I was about to be doing for my health haha.

I was also blessed to be connected with Jasmin Rahim, a holistic nutritionist I trusted (which is key) and who guided me through my first several months of care. She not only addressed what I physically put in my body, but also mentally and emotionally carried with me. This is important because we are one, and each affects the other. I couldn’t wait to start taking control of my health and my life, knowing I needed to make big changes.

Back to Baseline

We started with an intensive 21-day cleanse. I wasn’t sure I could actually complete it, but I did. And it was life changing. Progress was gradual, but by the end I could hardly believe the change. I could EAT! Without pain, bloating or indigestion. And I could go to the bathroom, with a little help from Epsom salts at first, and then just magnesium (my past experience makes me really appreciate our body’s basic functions ha).

I followed a very limited diet in the short-term (not meant to be sustainable long-term) to eliminate any potential trigger foods and be as easy on my body as possible. We met weekly to check-in on my status and for special abdominal massages.

*Please note that this was guided and not everyone needs to do something this extreme.
There are basic elimination diets that can be helpful and doable on your own, but I would recommend working with a professional. 

Some of the things I did during these three weeks included:

  • No: grains, dairy, beans / legumes, eggs, nuts / seeds (hemp seeds okay), processed foods / oils, fruit (including avocado), sugar of any kind
  • Yes: select vegetables (avoiding those difficult to digest like brussels sprouts / cauliflower, as well as garlic / onion which are high in sulfur, and nightshades which can be problematic), meat, fish, lots of healthy oils (olive, coconut, hemp, ghee) – probably 2T at every meal, herbs, pink salt, select spices (no pepper, etc)
  • Everything cooked, nothing raw – this made a huge difference for me
    • I used to have a lot smoothies and salads because I was too tired to cook, but they can be difficult to break down, especially if you have digestive issues
  • All organic (there are so many chemicals on crops these days that you do not want in your body!)
  • 4 hours between meals and 12 hours at night with no food to allow full digestion
  • No drinking water 30 minutes before or after eating (dilutes digestive enzymes)
  • Mindful eating! Chewing, no distractions – I noticed breathing and not eating stressed or rushed really helped (see my tips in this other blog post!).
  • Selected supplements, as well as epsom salts to thoroughly cleanse my system
  • Self-care routines: herbal tea, hot liver packs, oil pulling, massage, infrared sauna, salt baths (to aid the detoxification process)
  • Clean skincare – using oils and no chemicals
  • No exercise! To activate the parasympathetic system (“rest and digest”) and reduce the “fight or flight” stress response (sympathetic nervous system), as well as lower inflammation
  • LOTS of rest
  • Limited commitments
    • I had no real socialization (besides roommates and biking to the grocery store / farmers market) because I was so exhausted. I discovered I had been in overdrive for so long that I was completely burnt out. Sorry for being MIA!
  • Meditation and journaling exercises

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Steamed kale and baked sweet potato with coconut oil, cinnamon and pink salt (my fave)
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Fennel zucchini soup prep

As a result of this, I felt like a new woman. In so many ways. Not only could I comfortably digest food, I had increased mental clarity, lost the extra 5 pounds I had been carrying (with no exercise), and developed a new sense of self-love, forgiveness and compassion. Granted there were definitely bumps in the road. I still have my ups and downs and days when I feel awful, but I’m learning how to manage and take it in stride.

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First day post-cleanse and feeling a renewed excitement about life!

My energy slowly progressed and I continued to work with Jasmin on a post-cleanse transition, where we gradually added back select foods, as well as social interaction. I was thankful to be home in MN during this time, with family support and a lot of rest.  I capped off this phase with a trip for personal growth and rejuvenation. I spent two incredible weeks in Nicaragua, experiencing nature, real human connection and getting back to the basics of what makes life beautiful <3 .

img_1537Connecting with people and nature in Nicaragua

Digging Deeper

From there I transitioned to work with a functional medicine doctor, Dr. Cole, to really dig into the root of my problems now that I could actually function, though still having to lie really low and limit my diet. It was important that he specialized in my key health issues:

  1. Gut health / digestion
  2. Hormone imbalances
  3. Autoimmune diseases / immune system

He ordered several in-depth labs, including blood, stool and saliva, and they yielded some interesting findings! At a high level, he found that I had the following:

  • Bacterial imbalance and overgrowth in gut (dysbiosis)
  • Low immune gut response (our GI tract contains ~70% of our immune system!)
  • High cortisol (stress hormone; precursor to full adrenal fatigue and more)
  • Milk casein intolerance
  • Low t3 (active thyroid)
  • Low white blood cells, neutrophils (chronic infection pattern)
  • High liver enzymes (indicate liver inflammation or damage)
  • High cholesterol (detox issue – eliminated through liver)
  • Functionally low vitamin d (attributed to muscle / joint / bone pain and weakness, fatigue, depression; interesting that GI conditions can affect your ability to absorb fat, as well as fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin d)
  • High homocysteine (methylation impairments, inflammation)

So we had a lot to work on! And we would have to work in phases, as there is no quick-fix, but at least I had some answers.

My initial protocol was a similar autoimmune diet (“AIP” – good resources here and here, highlighted below) to reduce inflammation and prepare my body for deeper cleansing, as well as supplements – first focusing on healing my gut. I followed this more or less for the first four months (with some “cheats” now and then because #balance 🙂 ).

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Balance: Gluten-free banana bread while wandering Santa Barbara 🙂

Foods eliminated on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet:

  • Grains – wheat, rice, corn, and others; and pseudograins (millet, amaranth, teff, etc.)
  • Legumes – all beans including peanuts, black beans, pinto beans, hummus, etc.
  • Dairy – all sources of dairy, even raw or fermented
  • Nuts and seeds all nuts and seeds including cashews, almonds, quinoa, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, seed-based spices, chocolate, coffee, etc.
  • Eggs especially the white part of the egg, which contains inflammatory proteins
  • Nightshades tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplants, goji berries and several spices
  • Industrial seed oils – pretty much all liquid oils, except for olive and avocado oils
  • Processed foods basically anything that comes out of a package
  • Alcohol – it is well established that alcohol induces a leaky gut.
  • NSAIDs Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen, which cause holes to form in the gut and stomach linings.
  • Sugar, starches, fruits, yeasts, FODMAPs Sweet, starchy, and yeast-containing foods can contribute to imbalances in the gut microflora (dysbiosis) by feeding unfavorable bacteria in the gut. They are best limited or restricted especially at first on the AIP.

Since then I have added in a 2-week Gut Protocol (2-4 day bone broth fast…I made it 2.5 days ha, followed by ~10 days of soups using select vegetables and meat all cooked in bone broth, along with coconut oil, animal fat, and sauerkraut juice mixed in). Bone broth and marrow are highly healing to the gut and I was lucky to get mine from a friend Lindsey, who just started her own company Owl Venice! I recently completed another round of the Gut Protocol, but for some reason I cannot stomach plain bone broth anymore. It almost makes me gag 🙁 So I got to skip the fasting part and start with soup.

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Stocking up on bone broth from owl Venice!

We’re also working on adding in juice:

  • 16-20oz of celery juice first thing in the morning every day if possible, to rebuild my hydrochloric acid – this vital to break down protein in your stomach and a lot of people with acid reflux are actually low!
  • One-day juice fasts every two weeks (celery, cucumber and apple)

Rediscovering My Self

Thus far in my healing journey I have truly gained a renewed sense of self on all levels. My awareness continues to grow, both internally and externally. Although some lessons I have to learn multiple times over ha.

Key takeaways for me were:

  • Relearning not to fear food. It had caused me so much pain for so long, I was afraid to eat anything because of how I would feel from it. But food is not the enemy, it is our friend. And it can be so nourishing given the right composition and mindset.
  • Overcoming my fear of going “backwards” when reintroducing foods to my diet – with my stomach / digestion, my weight and all the progress I had made – understanding it’s a life-long journey.
  • Making my health and self-care a priority, which meant I also had to learn how to say no and not feeling guilty or selfish for putting myself first. I am still working to find balance with this in my life.
  • Letting myself rest and not be “doing” something all the time. This was hard because I feel a constant need to be productive and accomplishing things, otherwise I would be considered “lazy.” But that’s not true. It’s okay to rest! We often need it more that we need to do things.
  • Realizing I trained my body for so long, but not my mind. The mind is so powerful and the more we own our thoughts, the more power we have to own our lives.
  • Tuning in to my heart and what makes me tick. Our minds get bogged down from so much outside information and pressure, that it’s easy to loose touch with our hearts and authentic desires, but they move in certain directions for a reason. It’s worth paying attention to and helps us align with our true purpose.
  • Learning to eat intuitively and pay attention to what my body craves (rather than what I think I “should” or “shouldn’t” eat), when I am hungry or full, and not worrying about calories / protein / fat / carbs (for example, I probably eat 6+ tablespoons of coconut oil every day and have never felt better in my body).
  • Less is more – including medical care and activities. I had to stop searching for new “answers”, stick with my plan and COMMIT.
  • You are not what you eat, you are what you digest and absorb 😉 .

My goal going forward is to be good enough at doing everything necessary to heal – for me this is better than doing nothing at all and also better than doing everything. Aiming for perfection for too long left me discouraged and overwhelmed, so I am working to find a reasonable balance with my diet and protocols that is sustainable, knowing that it will likely take me about two years to heal.

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Turned 29 and feeling healthier and more alive than ever!

Now that I have caught up to where I am now, I’m excited to share more about my daily life and learnings going forward in this journey! Health is so much more than food and exercise, so stay tuned 🙂

Yours Jenuinely,

xoxo

 

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