You are what you eat. My story of food, sickness, death and a whole new life.

This is my story of how I came to be in the position I am now. Of how I became someone who wants to help people change their life using food as medicine. This is why I became a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. This is my why. 

My childhood was filled with dessert. I think it was really and truly how my mom knew how to show love. She showed us love with sugar. We had a rotating schedule of desserts after dinner that went like this: Crazy cake (a delicious and simple chocolate cake) with canned frosting, apple crisp, blueberry crisp, cherry crisp all made with canned pie filling and served with non dairy whipped topping and chocolate chip cookies. These things were staples in our house. We had one of these desserts every night after dinner. Both of my parents grew up on farms and ate what they grew. They both grew up in lower income families and were not afforded the luxuries of processed foods. There also was not a global market when I was a kid so we didn’t have a large variety of foods to choose from that were fresh. We had canned peas and corn and fresh celery and carrots, red delicious apples and oranges. That was pretty much it. I am sure there were definitely more choices in the store but that is what we had along with processed foods because both my parents worked and those delicious TV dinners were so darn good! My favorite was the Salisbury Steak with mashed potatoes. I can’t remember what the dessert portion was of that but I am sure it was good and that I ate the whole thing!  We had boxed frozen donuts that we baked in the oven and cereals and lots and lots of bread. When my dad was working late or going to be gone for dinner my mom would make us spaghetti with a whole loaf of bread made in to garlic bread and we loaded up on all those delicious (and addicting) carbohydrates. My mom cooked some great dinners and really did the best she knew how. It was how she showed us she loved us. 

So, food became love. It became what I turned to in times of need or when I was seeking comfort. It became my everything. I remember studying for a test in college and was feeling pretty stressed out. I ate 11 snickers bars in one sitting. I kept looking for the comfort and it just wasn’t there. I sure had one heck of a sugar buzz going on though. Something in that moment clicked for me and I knew it was not normal to eat that many candy bars in one sitting. I shoved that idea aside and just kept on with my life. I didn’t normally over eat like that but I sure did have some kind of obsession with food and with sugary treats in particular. Over the years this led to what I now know to be some serious blood sugar issues. I was definitely riding the blood sugar roller coaster and I didn’t know how to get off so I kept on riding. The sugar made it all worth it after all. It satisfied that need for something sweet several times per day. 

I loved to bake and did so regularly and would over indulge quite a bit in what ever it is that I made. I also was the person who needed a huge glass of orange juice as soon as I got up in the morning. I needed to snack, usually on something sweet, by 10 am and then was starving at lunch so I ate usually something high carb and low fat like pasta with sauce or a Lean Cuisine. By 2pm I was ready for a nap so I would have some more sugar. I remember at my first real job my boss had a drawer in her office with little mini candy bars in it for anyone to come have. Once I allowed myself to go in to the drawer I was in there all the time. I am pretty sure she regretted letting me know about it. I probably ate a bag of those things a week. It was a great pick me up! 

Soon enough my whole life revolved around eating and making sure I didn’t get the shakes from being hungry. If my blood sugar was getting low I would need to eat something immediately or I would have a bit of a breakdown. I remember one time on vacation with my boyfriend and another couple, my blood sugar got so low and I got so hangry that I pulled our lawn chairs out of our truck and threw them across our campsite. Our friend still teases me about that 25 years later. 

Once kids came along I wanted so badly to be the perfect mother. I worked a lot while pregnant with my first child and ate a lot to curb the nausea that I had from being pregnant. I lived off of fast food and chewy granola bars. Oh, and a big old glass of chocolate milk on the way to work. Sugar, sugar and more sugar. I was a mess. Once my daughter was born my husband and I decided I would stay home with her. I honestly couldn’t bare the thought of leaving her so I was more than happy to stay at home however scary that might have been. No one know what to do when they are a first time parent and I was no exception. I did feel pretty strongly that I wanted to keep her away from sugar though. All the parenting information at the time said that keeping them away from sugar until they are two is the best idea. So we did our best for her. 

I really started to hone my baking skills once I had kids because it was one way I knew to show love. I dove right in to making all kinds of cakes and cookies and bars and quick breads. I loved baking and I loved sharing what I made. I also loved finishing up what didn’t get eaten by everyone else. You would think I was quite heavy by this time but amazingly I was only a couple sized bigger than I am now. I exercised and watched what I ate after my daughter was born and made sure to exercise during my second pregnancy. I didn’t gain as much weight the second time around and I felt so much better physically. I attributed it to eating a little better and exercising. I still had issues with my blood sugar though. I would get the shakes if I didn’t eat right after exercising and of course I was eating sugar in one form or another (probably a granola bar of some kind or a homemade muffin). 

After my son was born I was really busy and I was nursing him so I spent a lot of time sitting while feeding him. I could only nurse him for four months before my hormones were so out of whack that I thought I might literally be going crazy. I had such problems with my hormones while nursing that I did it until I couldn’t take it any more. The summer after I was done nursing I was in the doctors office for some nerve pain and when I told him how tired I was he decided to check my thyroid. Of course he only checked TSH as that is the gold standard for conventional medicine and it turns out that my TSH was at 150 when the normal range is between 3 and 5. The process for hypothyroidism, as I was diagnosed was for you to take levothyroxine for 6 weeks and come back in for a retest and see if the medication needs to be adjusted. This was a challenging time for a mom of a toddler and a baby. After 8 hours of sleep I was so tired I didn’t feel like I had slept at all. I got up though, because I had to. I remember feeling like I was in slow motion while trying to write a check to pay a bill or even to speak. My tongue felt thick and very difficult to move. My period was so heavy I would regularly bleed through my clothes. I thought I just had horrible periods. Nope. Thyroid related for sure. The major PMS was blood sugar dysregulation. I don’t honestly know how I am still married. It has been a rough road with my hormone irregularities and thyroid issues. I guess my husband should have a little credit for putting up with it. 

Later that year my thyroid was regulated but my blood sugar remained out of balance for many more years to come. When my daughter was three and my son about a year and a half we decided we would have another child and our family would be complete. My husband comes from a large family and I only have a brother but always had wanted another sibling so we decided to have one more. Once I became pregnant, we were thrilled and I was so nauseous I couldn’t stand it. I never actually threw up during my pregnancy but had that feeling as if I was about to all day long.  I was having some other weird symptoms that we didn’t know what to make of. I got the shakes frequently which I thought was due to low blood sugar but eating sugar didn’t help them. I started seeing spots. My doctor checked my thyroid and my TSH levels had gone very low to the point where he took me off my medication. Innately I knew something was terribly wrong. I just didn’t know what. 

Early on in the pregnancy at an ultrasound appointment the doctor thought our baby might have water on the brain. I was devastated. I did not take it well and I did not want to have a disabled child. I don’t think anyone ever wishes for that. I was really upset at the cards I had been dealt and was doing a great job of feeling sorry for myself for a couple of weeks.  We were sent to a perinatal specialist and they did more ultrasounds over the coming months and thought that everything might be alright but they would do an MRI to be sure. That MRI was in March of 2004 and they said everything looked great. By April I was in labor 6 weeks early and the doctor in the triage room at the hospital could not find a heart beat. She had to tell us that our baby was dead and I had yet to deliver him. I remember requesting and epidural because I didn’t want to feel anything. Our sweet boy came before I could get the epidural. It is the strangest thing to deliver a baby and have silence at the end. There was no crying. Just silence. The strangest silence. They wrapped our baby up and let us hold him and they wheeled me to a room where I wept and wept and my husband cried and cried and we took turns holding our baby. There was terrible news to deliver to our families and friends and to our little ones anxiously awaiting the arrival of their sibling. 

We spent the night in the hospital taking turns holding him. Our doula took pictures for us, insisting that we would want them later. She was right. I looked at those picutres all the time for several months. Now they are in a keepsake box and I don’t look at them much. The hospital took plaster casts of his feet and we cut a lock of his hair. He was real. We had proof. There were no answers from the hospital or from my doctor as to why this happened. Deep down inside though I knew it had something to do with my thyroid. I didn’t know what or how but I knew. So we planned a funeral and we grieved. I had lost a lot of weight due to my thyroid being crazy and didn’t look like I had just delivered a baby which I was grateful for.  I cried off and on for about a year without any notice it was coming at all. My friends were either pregnant at the same time as me or getting pregnant with their third child while I was grieving the loss of mine. It was a tough time. One thing that really helped me though was to feel all the feelings when they came no matter when that was. I managed to get myself through it by allowing myself to feel. It was very therapeutic. 

Once I got to my postpartum check, my doctor sent me to an endocrinologist to check my thyroid further. At this time I had started researching thyroid issues and asking about testing that could be done other than TSH. My endocrinologist did nothing more than feel my thyroid gland as I swallowed and checked my TSH and T3. That was it. I knew I wanted to have another child and was slightly obsessed with the idea. I also knew I needed my thyroid to be stable in order for that to happen so I patiently waited for my TSH to go back in to “normal range”. Once it did we got pregnant and I prayed that this baby would live. My doctor agreed to see me for every appointment and to do a stress test on the baby every week during the third trimester so we could monitor things very closely. I also had my thyroid levels checked every six weeks during my pregnancy to ensure that things were staying stable. They did and we had a baby girl in 2005. 

When she was born, I thought all things were fine again. They were for awhile and then I started to develop some weird symptoms. About the time my youngest daughter was four I had severe mood swings, severe low back pain in the evenings and this terrible water blister like rash on my chest and arms that I itched until it would bleed and then I would have scabs all over my chest and arms. I knew something was not right. I just couldn’t figure out what it was until one day a thought came to me. Something said to me that I should look in to changing my diet and particularly cutting out gluten. How strange this thought was because by this point, I was baking bread from scratch at least once a week. Why would I give up on my love affair with bread (and butter). There was simply nothing at all in this world better than fresh baked bread with butter on it. Bread was the one thing I thought I could never give up besides sugar. I thought about this long and hard for about a month or so and then I just decided to give it up cold turkey. I told my husband about it and he laughed at me. I said, “Thanks for the support” and gave it up anyway. It was a challenge and cold turkey is not for everyone. I did it before I even knew how to. I was hungry and filled my hunger with cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. 

So I gave it up and two weeks later my rash was gone. Completely gone. No itching at all! I knew I was on to something. My brain fog had lifted and my mood had really stabilized. It was amazing. I knew I needed to dive deeper. I found a local naturopathic doctor who did some blood tests and found that I had Hashimoto’s and a bunch of food sensitivities. No more eggs, oats, yeast, cow or goats dairy, gluten or wheat. How crazy was that!?  I gave up eggs for a couple of weeks and then decided I didn’t have an issue with them so I added them back in. My ND got me on a B vitamin, fish oil, magnesium and an adrenal supplement after also doing an adrenal panel and finding out my hormones and cortisol were in really rough shape. I was a physiological and biological mess but I was so happy to have finally found some answers. 

Getting diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, leaky gut (intestinal permeability), adrenal fatigue (HPA Axis dysregulation) and food sensitivities was really the best thing that could have happened to me because I was able to make some changes and feel better. I learned to put myself first.  I went on a gluten free and dairy free diet and started to feel better. The weird acne on my temples and my neck I had all my life also went away once I omitted dairy. It was like a huge light switch went off for me. Food can do this to me? Food can heal me? Food is medicine? YES. Food is medicine. This idea was amazing to me. Food is medicine. Food is medicine. The Standard American Diet (SAD) made my body so sick it killed my baby. Being gluten and dairy free made me feel so much better. I was a little pissed about this for about a year. Now I wouldn’t change any of it (although I sure do wish I could have both my son that died and my daughter that was born afterwards). I had to decide to forgive myself and my body for what had happened. I didn’t know any better. My doctor certainly wasn’t trained in any of this either. He didn’t know that gluten would cause so much damage to my body that in order for me to remain alive, my body would have to kill my son. Our body’s are so magnificent. They do what they can in the moment to keep us alive even if it means long term harm to us in the form of chronic illness.

I have a chronic illness called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. An autoimmune disease where my immune system has attacked my own tissues. I also have Psoriasis and I have to carefully manage my blood sugar to ensure that I don’t get an outbreak of that. I have these autoimmune diseases but they DO NOT define who I am. They set me on a path of so much knowledge about the body and how food really can be medicine. It really can fuel us and nurture us and allow us to live a long and high quality life.  About a year ago I started the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) which removes nightshades, nuts and all grains and that has taken my healing one step further. That choice was not easy for me to make either and took me about a year to decide to do it. You too, can make even the simplest of changes if you are wondering about it and you can have me by your side to help you. 

I am feeling so much better these days with balanced blood sugar, I am sleeping well, I practice good self care and eat really good food. Food that nourishes my mind, body and soul. My thyroid is behaving and that is good news. Remember that you are what you eat. Your body can only use what fuel you give it. Feeding it an abundance of sugar and processed foods will lead to dis-ease very early in life. 

This story is what lead me to become a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. I have such passion around helping you and others figure out just what their imbalances are so they can have a long and healthy life or so they can safely bring a new and wonderful life in to this world. This story is why I am here today with empathy for food addiction. This story is why I am here today to help you one meal at a time if need be. This story is why I am here today to teach you how food can be your medicine too. Let me in to help you one day at a time. Let me help you get clear about your health. 

Do I Need a Calcium Supplement?

The short answer here is that you may not need one. Most of us get enough calcium in our diets but lack the needed cofactors to use and assimilate the calcium. 

Foods that are rich in calcium

  • Sardines
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Collard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Turnip Greens
  • Mustard Greens
  • Beet Greens
  • Natto (fermented soy) 
  • Egg Yolks
  • Dark Meat Chicken.

You do not have to consume dairy products to get enough calcium but if you do, the best sources of dairy calcium are raw milk, yogurt and cheese (Jarlsberg in particular). 

Calcium makes up about 2% of your body weight contributing to bone structure as well as playing a role in controlling muscle and nerve function.  We definitely need calcium but you may not need to supplement with it as long as you are eating a well balanced diet. Too much calcium in the diet can deposit itself in places like blood vessels and as kidney stones in the kidneys. 

While calcium is essential for muscle contraction, magnesium serves as a calcium blocker. It is the calcium in too high amounts that creates a muscle cramp and magnesium that creates the relaxation. So it is important for these two to be in balance especially when it comes to your heart. 

It is not enough to try to replace these minerals that may be lacking in the diet. They need to be in balance and we need to be asking ourselves why there is an imbalance in the first place. 

Some things to look at to see whether or not your body is able to use the calcium in your diet are: 

How are your hormones functioning? Your parathyroid plays a very big role in maintaining blood calcium levels, thyroid hormone decreases blood calcium levels, adrenal hormones control sodium and potassium which have a relationship with calcium and sex hormones play a role in bone structure. Vitamin D works like a hormone in the body. We need it to increase the absorption through the digestive system. More on that later. 

Are you drinking enough water? Good hydration ensures that blood is fluid or thin and free flowing enough to efficiently transport calcium throughout the body. Having balanced electrolytes will help make sure calcium is transferred in and out of the cells. 

Are you getting enough other minerals in your diet? You should not only be looking at the amount of minerals you are getting in your diet (from food) but are they in balance with the amount of calcium you are getting. 

Are you digesting your fats or taking in quality fats?  Fatty acids are needed to transport calcium in to the cells and help increase calcium levels in the tissues. 

Is your digestion working properly? Calcium is only absorbed in an acidic environment and so it needs adequate stomach acid for the body to be able to use it. 

 There are two other factors that come in to play in regards to calcium and our ability to use it properly in the body. 

Vitamin K and Vitamin D. 

First let’s look at Vitamin K which has two forms. K1 and K2. This is a very simplified explanation of K1 and K2 as there are more forms of Vitamin K that play very specific roles in the body but for the purposes of this post I am keeping it simple for you all. If you want to learn about these vitamins in greater detail google Chris Masterjohn. He has made a career out of studying fat soluble vitamins. 

Vitamin K2 Health Benefits

It prevents calcium from going in to all the wrong places, as discussed above, like keeping it out of your kidneys where stones can form and the blood vessels where it can contribute or cause heart disease. It also helps get it in to your bones and teeth where your bones will get strong and your teeth will be able to fight off decay.

It helps you make insulin and helps to prevent insulin resistance. Remember this is when your cells turn the insulin carrying glucose away because they have had too much. In this way it helps to keep your blood sugar stable. It also helps you use energy properly making exercise a little easier and protects you from cancer.   

Vitamin K comes in different forms with K1 being the most well known for helping with blood clotting so you want to avoid supplementing with Vitamin K if you are on an anticoagulant. K1 is found mostly in plants and especially in leafy greens and K2 is found most often in animal products. This is a fat soluble vitamin so you might notice that the animal products it is found in are naturally higher in fat so you can use it. This is why I tell my clients and students to eat their veggies with a little bit of fat so they can actually use the vitamins in the plant. 

Vitamin D Health Benefits

This fat soluble vitamin plays a big role in your overall health by impacting around 3000 of your genes. It turns on or off the genes that prevent or make worse diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, MS, gum disease, IBS, colds and flu and many more. 

Much of the population is deficient in Vitamin D, especially those with darker skin and those living in the north. Most of us need about ten times what the Recommended Daily Allowance is (600 IU per day for RDA) and the very best way to get it is by getting sunlight daily or taking a high quality supplement. Be aware though that if you supplement you need to have your levels checked regularly by a doctor because you can take too much. 

Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium and vitamin K2 sends the calcium to your bones, again, keeping it from depositing in the wrong places.  A build up of plaque in the arteries results from a damaged blood vessel having calcium deposited there so that you can remain alive. This is how heart disease begins. A build up of this kind of plaque can result in an eventual heart attack. Remember that sugar and processed foods are what cause the damage to the blood vessels in the first place.  Vitamin K and D work together to protect your blood vessels from this plaque formation. 

If you are taking calcium and vitamin D supplements but are deficient in K, you could be doing more harm than good than if you didn’t take a calcium supplement at all because that calcium is just one part of your overall bone and heart health. 

Bottom line:

  • You may not need a calcium supplement, you are probably getting enough from your diet. 
  • You need good digestion.
  • You need to be well hydrated.
  • You need to do some weight bearing exercise like walking or lifting weights.
  • You need those good quality fats in your diet and you need to digest them.
  • You need to optimize your vitamin D intake (and get some sun) and check your blood levels regularly. 
  • Get K2 from leafy greens, fermented veggies, or raw milk cheeses
  • Eat a wide and varied diet of real whole foods.

 

Tell me in the comments. Do you take a calcium supplement or a vitamin D supplement? Do you spend time outside getting some sunshine?