This is my story of how an autoimmune disease and an eating disorder all led to my career change into health coaching.
How did I get here talking about health and nutrition to all of you? It was a bumpy road, with an autoimmune disease that kicked things off. I think it’s worth explaining why I’m so passionate about helping women feel their best, and why I put the effort in to take care of myself.
For me, my health journey starts when I was three years old and I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I was one of the first patients in the my city develop Kawasaki’s syndrome. My tiny body swelled up, I couldn’t walk, color, and play like a normal three year old. It’s like an inflammation nightmare. It affects lymph nodes, skin, and potentially coronary arteries.
I went on an aspirin therapy regimen, and remained in bed till my body healed. I blocked out that memory for many years, but it came back when I was in late elementary school. I was followed by cardiologists for years to assess the possible cardiac damage caused by this autoimmune disease.
Things were quiet for awhile until I was diagnosed with an irregular, irregular heartbeat. That led to more tests, a diagnosis of mitral-valve prolapse, and a prescription for beta-blockers. This was at the beginning of middle school. Not an awesome time in anyone’s life, but feeling “different” was even tougher at this age. I wore heart monitors to class on occasion, and worked really hard to hide it.
I just didn’t feel good.
The beta-blockers left me feeling lethargic, despite always being athletic in the past. I was tested for fibromyalgia, which was very new at the time, and was inconclusive. As someone who loved playing tennis, swimming, and playing outside, I felt like I lost a part of me.
Over time, the beta-blockers caused horrible reflux which led me to see a gastroenterologist. Digestive issues are near and dear to my heart as I’ve been there too. I tried all the anti-reflux pills, drinks, and tablets I could find. Nothing worked. Yet no one asked what I was eating.
How did I handle that horrible feeling of reflux? Not very well. I binge ate to try to quiet the fire in my stomach. It didn’t matter what the food was, ice cream, cookies, crackers, you name it. This is when disordered eating arrived in my life. I was fifteen years old.
I started to binge and purge, thinking it would help make the reflux feelings go away. I was secretive, and clearly not in the right mindset to handle the health struggle I was dealing with.
I will forever be grateful to my mother who discovered my behavior before it went too far. As a nurse, she was pretty quick to figure out something was really off. She connected me with an eating disorder therapist who helped me learn how to have a healthy relationship with food. It took a long time to stop the urge that had become a habit everyday after school for weeks.
My bumpy health journey doesn’t end there. I went on to get diagnosed for chosto-chondritis, which is a form of arthritis in the chest wall. The chest pain I felt for years was real, but it had nothing to do with my heart. The heart condition was a misdiagnosis, and those prescriptive pills did nothing for me but wreck my energy and confidence during those high school years. No one should have to deal with that.
With the change in medication, I felt like the weight was lifted off my chest. Literally. I complained for years of stabbing chest pain, or feeling like a brick was on my check.
Fast forward a few years and I graduated college, got married, and became pregnant. Suddenly, I couldn’t take my arthritis medicine anymore in the third trimester. I stressed. How would my body handle the pain again?
It was becoming a mother which really opened up my eyes to what happened to our food over the past few decades. I started reading ingredient lists, switched to organic milk, and began to make wholesome meals like the ones I grew up with. No more cheese and crackers with wine for dinner.
That medicine I was so worried about needing? I never needed it again after having my daughter and changing the way I was eating. But it wasn’t easy.
I went back to work when my daughter was just three months old and had to learn how to make dinners fast. The mad rush to leave the office, drive 40 minutes to daycare, and race home to get dinner on the table was a real struggle. There were some cereal for dinner nights and I knew there had to be a better way.
What changed my confidence in the kitchen is learning how to meal plan. When I started to take the time to develop a balanced meal plan, dinner became an enjoyable experience again. I started planning slow cooker dinners, 10 minutes dinner, and even created some freezer meals.
I started this blog in 2009 to document how we were changing our lifestyle to a healthy, real food based approach. It felt good to share what was working, and I found such stress-relief in the kitchen.
However, a few years ago I struggled with a post-baby body and bad habits of too much coffee and wine. On top of caring for three little ones, we had to move out of the country for my husband’s job. Caffeine and wine became a part of a coping strategy. Those first six months of living away from home were a challenge.
It was time to make a change.
Creating a new path
At the library, I started diving into nutrition books. I upped my exercise game. I cut back on the wine Monday-Friday (wait, Thursday) Things started to come together again.
I decided to go back to school to become a culinary nutrition expert at The Academy of Culinary Nutrition. I cooked new foods, immersed myself in modern nutrition, and unlearned the old ways of approaching our diet. I thought I was eating healthy buying whole-wheat pasta and bread, and organic milk. Oh my, I was so far off the mark.
Changing the way I ate dramatically improved my energy level. I think it improved my mood too. The winter doesn’t bother me as much anymore, and I have a better understanding of why our body needs so much Vitamin D. I started playing tennis competitively again after 15 years. Knee pain I had struggled with for years went away, even as I exercised more. Oh, and I dropped 20 pounds. Without dieting. Our bodies work really well when we fuel it with the right foods, and eliminate the stuff that slows us down. This is what I have learned.
All of my success comes from eating the right foods.
Once you have one autoimmune disease, you are much more likely to develop another. I also have a very strong family history of autoimmune disease, which also puts me at an elevated risk. On the test I give my clients, I would have scored over 100+ points before I focused on a holistic lifestyle. Now I can say I’m below 60, but the family connection and previous diagnosis will always put me at risk.
The most important thing, I feel amazing.
I choose to follow a healing diet because I don’t want to go to that dark place again with unanswered health questions. The one thing we can control is our nutrition and lifestyle. I can say for sure it make a difference. Putting the effort in to eat well helps me be a better wife and mother.
I’ve chosen to take control of my health and I thought you all deserve to understand where I’m coming from when I give you guidance and support. Today I still face the same struggles of stress, juggling parenthood, and finding time to do all.the.things. It’s my understanding of how to take care of myself that keeps me going. One day at a time.
You deserve the education to empower yourself to take control of your own health. Today I work with clients who need the extra support and the motivation to make lasting change. I’m proof that you can come back from a health struggle and overcome obstacles.