When it comes to your health, are you guilty of making this mistake too?
Please, please, for the love of all that is holy and healthy—listen to your body!!!
I’m gonna be real transparent here and confess: I ignored my body (not to mention some sage advice from my mother) for at least 8 of my adult years, from college until I was a young mom in my late-20’s.
I consider that one of my biggest health mistakes ever, and in this post I'm sharing with you the nitty-gritty from my own story, the mindset shift I had to make, and the lessons and takeaways learned. Are you in the same boat? Keep reading to the end!
I trace it back to my freshman year at college when my mom was first diagnosed with celiac disease. At the time, roughly 20 years ago, there was very little awareness about celiac or gluten intolerance, and even though she had all the classic symptoms of severe digestive distress it took her a long time to find a doctor who knew enough to even consider testing her for celiac.
Simply defined, celiac is a severe autoimmune disorder in which the body is unable to digest gluten, and the consumption of gluten destroys the villi in the gut causing nutrient deficiencies, chronic inflammation, and a myriad of uncomfortable and painful symptoms including, but not limited to, digestive troubles such as bloating and diarrhea. (Yuck.)
As my mom began to understand more about celiac and the many ways it can manifest itself—that it can present in a number of ways beyond the typical digestive issues—she encouraged me to consider testing for celiac or, at the least, gluten intolerance.
Of course, being my mom as well as a former ICU nurse, she knew my medical history better than I did! Over the years she’d helped me navigate a number of health concerns that--when looked at from a functional, whole body perspective--were all related to inflammation and some kind of hyper-function, or rather disfunction, of the immune system. Namely, allergies, asthma (i.e., inflamed bronchial tubes), and super-sensitive skin.
That and the fact that celiac can be hereditary should have been enough to raise a red flag.
But as a college kid I didn’t really know or understand any of those interrelated body systems. What I did understand was the kind of food I enjoyed eating, and the majority of it was high in gluten!
Keep in mind, this was long before going “gluten-free” had gone mainstream, so gluten-free alternatives were sorely limited and the few bread-like substitutes available were barely palatable. I saw the kind of intense dietary changes my mom had to make, and I just flat-out didn’t want to go there!
Two things were at play here—one, I didn’t fully understand the impact of my food choices on my health in general and the effects of gluten on my immune system specifically. And two, I felt overwhelmed by the idea of making such a radical change.
So I brushed off any question about my ability (or potential inability) to tolerate gluten with the reasoning that I was having none of the digestive upset that she was dealing with. So how could that be my problem?
In general I looked and felt pretty healthy…I was only what I would call “sick” a few times a year, usually related to seasonal allergies; and my asthma was considered “dormant” even though I still relied on daily medication for it and, from time to time, my rescue inhaler.
My skin was super-sensitive, and I broke out into weird rashes at random, unable to explain the cause the majority of the time. Plus I'd had (or soon would have) a couple of unusual, uncommon benign tumors and subsequent surgeries to remove them.
But other than that I was in great shape! And because by every other measure I was relatively “healthy” I didn’t really take my symptoms and those chronic health concerns seriously.
Until things started to go wonky after my first daughter was born.
During a surgery to remove a benign tumor in my neck (on the sympathetic chain of nerves near my carotid artery), the surgeon found nodules on my enlarged thyroid gland. At his advice, I went from the recovery room of that surgery to a series of multiple visits with doctors and thyroid specialists over the next 18 months. Several lab tests and benign biopsies later, during my pregnancy with my second daughter, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid disease where the immune system attacks and produces antibodies against your own thyroid cells.
I feel compelled to point out that I still resisted the idea that gluten could be an issue for me. And even though I listed my mom’s celiac disease on every medical history form I filled out for every doctor's office, at no point did my conventional doctors---well-respected, highly accomplished experts in their field---suggest the possibility that there could be a correlation between my gluten-filled diet and this autoimmune disease.
Throughout this whole chapter of my journey, my firstborn daughter was struggling with her own set of issues, which I share more about here
. Ironically, I was considering everything that could possibly be contributing to her digestive issues and eczema—environmental factors, household cleaners, skincare products—everything EXCEPT FOOD.
But then I had surgery to remove my diseased thyroid gland and, despite all of the biopsy samples that had tested benign, it turned out to be cancerous after all.
For me that was the straw that broke the camel's back and when it all hit the proverbial fan.
I finally started to ask the question: what the heck is misfiring in my “healthy” 27-yr old body?!
Now I’m not a medical professional by any stretch, but I CAN tell you what I gradually came to understand through my own deep-dive research into how the body functions as a whole and what I learned from my integrative, functional medicine doctor: the majority of your immune system exists in the lining of your gut, and my gut was on fire with some serious inflammation, creating systemic and chronic upheaval.
What finally began to dawn on me was that all of those symptoms I’d treated (or suppressed) and dealt with for years---issues in my skin, sinuses, lungs, etc.—were my body’s distress signals, indicators of chronic inflammation going on inside. Since childhood I‘d been steadily making my way across what Dr. Amy Myers calls “the autoimmune spectrum,” and I didn’t have a clue.*
Hashimoto’s now placed me on the “way far gone” advanced end of that spectrum.
When your immune system is so out of whack that it starts attacking the very tissues it’s supposedly wired to protect, THAT’S a problem!
So what’s the solution? Where do you go from there?
What I next heard straight from my functional medicine doctor was even worse than what I’d suspected, dreaded, and tried to ignore all along: that the major culprits wreaking havoc on my immune system from the inside out were gluten, followed closely by dairy and sugar.
The best way to start the healing process was by eliminating those from my diet and replacing them with nourishing, whole, anti-inflammatory foods.
Though that felt very overwhelming to hear at the time, after all we’d been through and the fact that now I had little ones whose wellbeing depended on my choices, I was willing to do whatever it took, even if it meant radically changing our diet and our mindset about what constituted “healthy.”
In this blog post
I share the five steps we took to healing from the inside out—most of those applied to my health situation as well. In many ways, my daughter and I were in the same boat insofar as our immune systems were concerned, just at different ends of the autoimmune spectrum, both in need of the same autoimmune friendly, nutrient-dense dietary protocol.
I dropped those inflammatory foods and committed to embracing a whole-foods, nutrient-dense diet free of gluten, dairy, and sugar for at least six months. My nutrient stores were sorely depleted of zinc, Vitamin D, and iron; so in addition to avoiding certain foods, my integrative doctor emphasized consuming foods rich in those vitamins and minerals and taking supplements that would help to replenish my nutrient stores.
It took creating new habits and a new routine, which was not easy, but after sticking with it for six months, I felt better than I had in years. Everything improved—my seasonal allergies, asthma, and thyroid antibody levels. I weaned off my asthma medication, and when that first spring came around I no longer depended on the allergy meds.
Granted, around this same time we were making other changes in our home and discovering the power of plants to support the body’s natural mechanisms for wellness. So in addition to creating healthier eating habits, I was also learning to utilize specific plant extracts
to support a healthy immune response and to promote clear airways. (More on that another day!)
What about you? Are you ignoring your symptoms because you’re overwhelmed or reticent to make changes? Are you maybe even a little afraid that you’ll go to a lot of time and effort only for it not to work?
My six key takeaways for you are these:
1. The body is remarkably designed to communicate with you when something isn’t right—listen to it! (And maybe also to your mother if your situation resembles mine )
2. The body is remarkably designed to repair and heal when you give it what it needs—pay attention to how your foods make you feel!
3. Food is medicine, and its nutrients are like micro-bits of data being delivered to your cells. There’s a lot of truth in the old adage, “you are what you eat.” Food may not fix everything, but it can certainly help and is a great place to start.
4. We make decisions based on what we know, and when we know better and believe it fully, we choose the better way.
5. Identify and create one simple, healthy food swap at a time; and focus on what you can eat, not on what you might be missing out on.
6. Last but not least, when it comes to your health, you are your own best advocate. Look at the whole picture, and if you're in need of a medical professional, seek out a doctor who is willing to listen, walk alongside you, and evaluate your situation from a functional, holistic perspective.
Do you have questions or want more feedback? Comment below or send me an email! I can't give you professional medical advice, but I can share with you my tools and resources as a patient, wellness advocate, and friend! I'd love the opportunity to meet and serve you where you are.
Also, if you want to hear more from me, be sure you’re signed up for my weekly wellness email—every week I dish up holistic wellness tips in small doses and deliver them to you right in your inbox. Be well, friend!