I used to think that once I discovered the ONE problem, infection, or imbalance in my body, all of my health issues would be resolved – the pain down the right side of my abdomen, the bloating that made me look 5 months pregnant, the low energy, bad skin, excess weight, brain fog, and of course, the dreaded constipation.
As I began my journey, a shift from fifteen years on a “pastry vegetarian diet” to a whole foods Paleo-template helped me experience some improvement. Next, I thought there must be an herb (or half the bottles in the supplement aisle) that would take me over the finish line and grant me with abundant health and regular digestion… but the symptoms persisted.
At one point, I was actually hospitalized for the pain – the doctors thought I might have had appendicitis. After a CT scan, x-rays, bloodwork and numerous physical exams, they determined that I didn’t need my appendix removed… but they also didn’t know what caused my intense pain. Over the next decade, I just dealt with the flares that came and went, just accepting that my body was flawed and that was how life was going to be.
Eventually the frustration built up, I felt miserable, and I gave in to conventional medical recommendations to undergo a colonoscopy, endoscopy, and abdominal ultrasound. Again, everything was normal, thankfully. I was fortunate not to have a disease, but I was still struggling with discomfort and fatigue. They called it “IBS”… yet still no answers.
I was told to take fiber and was offered antacids, painkillers, and anti-depressants. I declined all of the prescriptions in fear of the side effects and knowing that it was only a Band-Aid fix.
I had seen a glimmer of light when I changed my diet, and I knew in my gut that there was more work to do. I no longer accepted that my symptoms were “normal” just because they were “common” among so many people struggling with digestive problems. I didn’t have to live this way.
The Turning Point
I dove deep into my studies and learned to interpret more advanced functional lab testing. I began to run all of the lab tests on myself. I was still hunting for that ONE problem, hoping a simple change or pill would reestablish my energy, straighten out my gut, and relive me from all of the symptoms I experienced daily.
However, with the inch-high pile of test results giving me black and white information about hormone imbalances, a parasitic infection, yeast overgrowth, severe gluten intolerance, and nutritional deficiencies, I realized that my health complaints were more a culmination of various hidden stressors, lifestyle factors, and a direct assault from more than a decade of a sugar and grain diet. There was no ONE trigger to correct.
I remember that finally having these answers actually brought on a flood of emotions and tears to my eyes. I had a long journey ahead of me, but there was light at the end of the tunnel.
I developed a protocol that included specific, targeted supplements. Now that I knew what I was dealing with, I no longer just grabbed a bottle and hoped for the best. I had a clear plan.
While adding in the supplements was an exciting part of the plan, there were still other aspects of health that needed attention.
Stress management was a huge area I needed to address. Fortunately, transitioning to a career that I love and that aligns with my values, naturally removed a huge mental / emotional stressor for me. Learning to observe my own body and do a series of breathing exercises also helped to reduce acute stress.
I used to pride myself on the little amount of sleep I needed, but in truth, I was just kidding myself. Sleep is critical for repair and re-energizing. Setting a bedtime and creating a night-time routine allowed my body to restore during the night and helped me feel refreshed the next day, which reduced my stress too.
Last among the lifestyle changes was the exercise I was doing. Rather than pushing myself to run an uncomfortable distance, I actually scaled things back and enjoyed simply walking along the ocean, gentle yoga (instead of 90 minutes of hot Vinyasa), reformer Pilates, and getting back to my favorite activity… horseback riding.
As I began to heal, my mindset shifted from that of a victim of my body working against me to one of self-care. I realized all of the interconnected ways my body functioned – that my symptoms were mostly derived from my compromised gut.
In my work with clients, I usually see this common pattern too. Whether their main complaint is an issue with weight, energy, insomnia, headaches, foggy thinking, or skin rashes… the root of the problem usually comes back to gut health.
It took a lot of non-traditional training courses and trial and error on myself over the years to develop the tools I now share with clients – not only in regards to functional lab testing, but in appropriate diet and lifestyle habits that are supportive of their unique bodies and goals. Despite the mainstream advertisements and promises from cleanse programs, there is never ONE quick fix, and reversing the damage done by chronic stress, inflammation and the wrong mindset can take time.
While I still consider myself to be a work in progress, I have dropped about 30 pounds, have glowing skin, a waistline I’m not shy to show in a bikini, and finally, regular digestion! Rarely do I experience abdominal pain anymore.
Rather than focusing on each symptom, I used the test information to create a plan and repair my gut. It has taken many years and visits with countless doctors, both conventional and natural, but it was my own intuition, studies, and commitment that helped me turn my health around.
Bridging the Divide
We are just beginning to understand the role gut health plays in our overall health. When I was just starting my journey, I saw specialists – as if my body was divided in parts – gastroenterologist, psychologist, gynecologist, and dermatologist. But it seems that the alternative / functional / integrative medical approach is finally (hopefully) making its way into more mainstream approaches to health.
Becoming your own health advocate and continuing to ask why you have a symptom can help you get to the solution. After all, symptoms are usually the final messages from the body that something is wrong. In my case, I think back to the years when these symptoms were just smoldering; being fueled by a sugar-rich carb-loaded diet, inadequate sleep, countless rounds of antibiotics, and an extra attack from birth control pills and Advil.
And I’m not suggesting you stop seeing your doctor or avoid conventional medicine. There is a place for it – in fact, I recommend getting properly screened by medical professionals. But the issue lies in the fact that our healthcare system is not set up for health optimization – it is designed to diagnose and treat disease.
Before symptoms advance to the disease state, learn to support diet and lifestyle factors in order to enhance your overall wellbeing. Continue to seek out the reasons for dysfunction and even utilize lab testing to determine the hidden stress your body is experiencing.
It is rare that there is only ONE problem that needs to be addressed, as an imbalance in one area can create a cascade of symptoms. Our bodies are deeply interconnected and looking to gut dysfunction can help reveal the reasons for symptoms that may not necessarily seem to be a direct connection to our digestive tract. As in my case, skin conditions, poor cognition, mood problems and sluggish detoxification improved when I addressed my poor gut health.
It’s been said, “all disease begins in the gut”. You have the power to take control of your own health – keep digging deeper, asking why, supporting the gut, and rebuilding health.
As I continue to nourish my body, support my digestion and optimize my health, I actually feel grateful for the experience and am empowered by my discoveries. It is an honor to be able to share this information and it is my hope that my journey inspires others on their path to improving health too.