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Last week I retold the story of my childhood nutrition disaster and ended it by saying that I had some serious health ramifications from my second Ironman triathlon. The story continues here (bear with me, it's a little long, but there is a lot to say):
When I had finished my 2nd Ironman I looked damn good. I was skinny and toned and pretty much looked the way I thought was ideal for me. Success, right? I mean, as long as you look good, everything else will fall into place? Except I really didn't feel that was all it was cracked up to be. For some reason I just could not recover from the race. It usually takes a few weeks to really feel your best after putting your body through something like that, but months later I was still tired all the time. Add to that, my now-husband proposed to me at Christmas, about 3 months after the Ironman and so the stress of wedding planning wasn't helping with matters either.
Eventually things got so bad that I went to my doctor and he ran a battery of tests, thinking it could possibly be mono, but he came back with the diagnosis of “Hypothyroidism”. He explained to me that it was very common among women and that they had no idea what caused it and that there was no cure. But lucky me, I got to take a prescription medication (Synthroid/levothyroxin) for the rest of my life.
I kind of reeled from that information – I had been a healthy person my whole life up until that point. I mean, I did lots of exercise! At this point in time I had even been eating whole grains! And once in a blue moon I'd actually have a vegetable! How could I possibly be on a lifetime medication at the age of 29? It just didn't make sense to me.
Unfortunately I didn't get too much time to dwell on it as a few days later my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV Melanoma skin cancer. Things shifted at that point to worrying more about my mom's health and well being than my own. I started to feel a bit better on the thyroid medication, got married and did yet another Ironman (the entire training was very difficult due to me not having a ton of energy to do it) so really, there wasn't too much to time to think about my health during that time.
But then my mom passed away.
If there was a single defining event in my life, it probably was my mom dying. Why MY mom? My beautiful, loving, best friend a girl can have? What exactly did she do wrong or differently from all her friends and peers? There were so many questions I had and it kind of sparked my inquisitive side to come to life and find answers.
A few months after my mom passed away I got pregnant with my oldest son. I vowed at that moment to give him the healthiest life he could have and to try to avoid anything in my beauty products, etc that was even remotely connected to causing cancer. I read what is probably the single most life changing book I've ever read: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Something in that book completely shifted my way of thinking about food and where we get it from and made me take a hard look at what I ate. My husband and I planted a vegetable garden that spring. Yes, you read that right. The queen of “I never met a vegetable I liked” planted a vegetable garden and started eating vegetables!
My son was born in October 2009 and I breastfed him for a year, but when it came time for him to eat solid foods I had yet another shift towards eating wholesome, good food. I had found the Weston A. Price Foundation, read all about how he had found indigenous cultures who ate traditionally prepared foods who were healthy and vibrant and decided that that was how we too were going to eat. If you are not familiar with the WAPF principles, it is basically: eat soaked and/or fermented grains, drink raw milk, eat lots of vegetables, pastured meats, etc. Traditional eating is another way of putting it – eating the way our great-grandparents and prior most likely ate.
This way of eating definitely made my husband and I feel better, but I still had that nagging feeling in the back of my head that I still wasn't right. My energy levels were still quite low and I had a myriad of other symptoms that weren't anything grand, but just things that nagged me, like brain fog, gas, alternating constipation with diarrhea, etc.
Then my son got sick multiple times in one winter, went on 4 rounds of antibiotics, and suddenly couldn't eat things like cinnamon and walnuts without getting a nasty red rash all over his body. That was a strange one for me. He had had cinnamon and walnuts hundreds of times by this point with no reaction whatsoever. Why now? We brought him to an allergist who did the skin test, but that just came back with him being semi-allergic to every single thing they tested him for. Huh? How could he be allergic to everything? The allergist just shrugged and suggested we keep our son off nuts until he was 3 and come back in a year. That wasn't a great answer for me, so I started doing a little digging on the internet.
Turns out this is a common symptom of leaky gut, where the microbes balance in our gut lining gets significantly altered and/or killed off by factors in our lives, like antibiotics, food, chemicals, stress, etc and can no longer act as the barrier that it is supposed to function as. Food particles and gut microbes then, instead of getting swept along through our gut as part of the digestion process, get into our blood stream, causing a whole host of issues, including the rash symptom my son was getting.
About a year prior I had read about a diet called the GAPS diet(a similar diet to Paleo with just a few differences) but at the time dismissed it as a “NO eff'ing way am I going to do that” because it talked about removing all grains from your diet. That was just crazy talk. No way could I give up my beloved bread, cereal, bagels, and pasta! But as the year had passed I felt my resistance to it chipping away. Still wasn't ready to commit though. Then all changed when at 12 weeks into my 2nd pregnancy we learned I had miscarried. Twins. It was devastating. There are no words to describe how one feels after something like that. Was it something I did? Again the questions I had had after my mother's death started to return. But this time I felt poised to take action and to heal both myself and my son. So onto the GAPS diet my son and I went (my husband just kept eating his normal stuff).
The effects we saw from just a few DAYS on the diet were astounding. My son, who at that point was just a few days older than 2, went from just literally learning to string 2 words together, “mama here”, to saying “mama drives the car real fast!” within 2 weeks of being on the diet. His behavior, which until then bordered on aggressive and hyperactive became so much calmer. His skin, which had shown a bit of eczema, cleared up. His “allergies” to cinnamon and walnuts? Gone within 3 months. It was a miracle for him and we are so glad we found that diet when we did.
I had my own amazing results on that diet. Not only did I lose a few stubborn baby weight pounds right away, but my thyroid medication needed to be drastically reduced as well. However, the biggest result of all was when one day, about 1.5 months into the diet I walked outside and noticed that the colors were so much more vibrant than they had ever been, and that I could see everything so clearly and crisply. I always say it was like I had been watching the world in Standard Definition and that that day someone switched the world over to High-Definition. The change was remarkable. What I believe happened that day is that the brain fog I had had my whole, at least adult life, finally went away and that the inflammation in my brain settled down enough to let me experience what I should always have been experiencing.
So we did the GAPS diet for a year, I got pregnant again, this time carrying to term a healthy boy who is now my youngest, rambunctious loving bundle of whiny “me do it” these days. Sometime in early 2012 we made the switch from the GAPS diet to Paleo because it appeared that my son was still having issues with dairy. Plus GAPS was only meant to be temporary, but we were seeing such good results we wanted to keep going with something like it. And I'm a foodie so I loved the fact that the Paleo movement was gaining momentum and that there were so many great Paleo blogs out there with delicious recipes.
Being on the Paleo diet was like magic. I gained so much more energy, my skin looked great, I lost some of the 2nd baby weight, and I could think so clearly. It was like nothing could go wrong!
But then it did go wrong. In early 2014 my health came crashing down around me and it became clear that I needed help…
Stay tuned next week for the shocking conclusion to my story. Ok, it's not really shocking, but I just thought it sounds better to say shocking than boring. Because then why would you read it?
See Part 3 HERE