My Digestive Health Journey
Where do I begin? I get asked this question a lot, as I have been to countless doctors and other health practitioners, so I should have this one down pat.
I was very active when I was younger playing soccer, swimming and spending most of my time outside. My parents did a great job at providing health food (healthy by society’s standards). Low fat yogurt, sugar free treats, and diet pop. We baked with whole-wheat flour and used applesauce to decrease the fat content. Wow, how times have changed! If I only knew that using whole fats and real foods were a better option. But my parents were just following the health advice given to them at the time.
I remember when I was young and my grandma served a raw broccoli salad, I felt so terrible after I ate it. Everyone around me was just fine while I was in agony. Stomach pain seemed to run in our family. For as long as I can remember, my dad continually had digestive troubles. We always joked around that it was “normal”. I so clearly recall many times lying on the couch in my parents’ house waiting for my stomach pain to go away so I could continue hanging out with my friends. I was taking antacid over the counter meds at the ripe young age of 15 or 16 – who remembers Mylanta?
I had acne when I was a teenager. To treat this, I was immediately given antibiotics (tetracycline) to clear my face. When that didn’t work, I was put on birth control pills. I didn’t think much of it, as everyone else was doing the same thing - little did I know what this all may be doing to my gut health.
I went off to college and did not take the medications (birth control or tetracycline) with me and I dealt with the acne. It was SOOOO bad that I remember (not being a makeup girl) spending like 20 minutes trying to cover up all my dots, while all the while it just made the problems worse. My skin was screaming at me and I didn’t even think about what was happening in my body. All I could dream about was finding something that would clear my face up.
Finally, I came home for the summer to work and I could not deal with the acne anymore. It hurt, it was embarrassing and it was scarring my face! I went to the doctor and they didn’t hesitate at all and put me on Accutane. Have you read the side effects of this stuff??? My goodness, it has signs on it of pregnant women crossed out. It was mandatory that I was also prescribed birth control at the same time so I did not get pregnant. I read that you were supposed to have your liver enzymes tested but I did not have one blood test during this time. It caused pieces of my face to scab up and fall off. I was working at a campsite at the time and one of the couples that stayed there felt so badly for me, she offered to give me some of the skin care products she sold. I braved it out and didn’t put makeup on that summer. I so vividly recall coming home at lunch one day and eating with my mom. I was getting ready to go to my second job of teaching swimming lessons at a local pool (where you definitely couldn’t wear any makeup). I had to tell my mom it was ok and that I would get through this as she started to cry at my appearance. I bounced off to work – with a hope that I was being supported and this was the best option for my health at this time.
Time went on and my acne did clear up a bit after the medication. I stayed on the birth control, as that was the only thing that controlled it. So that would put me in at 10-15 years total on birth control (which is pretty standard these days). I stress this as when I later look into more holistic options for my health, I read how detrimental birth control can be for your micro biome. It is also one of the medications that many holistic practitioners encourage you to come off for your overall health. But let’s get back to my story.
I continued and went to Mount Royal College, where I was taking Kinesiology, and loved it. I was getting exceptional grades, made a ton of friends, exercised daily, ate well (for a college student) and had my eyes on the prize of going to the University of Calgary. This is where it all started getting worse. I started getting terrible stomach pains that would lay me out for a whole evening. I would try and do work but there was no way I could. I still got through school but when my parents came to visit they took me to the doctor. The response was… “ You probably have too much stomach acid and we should put you on acid blocking medications”. They also stated, and I have heard many times that…”So you can’t digest raw vegetables? Things could be worse?”. I didn’t change my diet much at this point other than eating plain items like chicken noodle soup and crackers to sooth my stomach (my future self is cringing right now – but this is my journey). Years went on like this and I took some time off of school to re-evaluate my life.
After my break and with no solutions for my stomach, I was accepted to the Univeristy of Calgary Kinesiology program. I was determined to work with athletes. This all came to fruition and I had the most amazing experience working with incredible mentors and athletes. However, with increased stress, coffee, no change in diet and the doctors putting me on and off of different antacid medications my health started to deteriorate.
I was accepted into a Masters of Science with an outstanding professor and I couldn’t have been more excited. This was my dream… I was supported to do the kinds of research I was interested in and surrounded by some of the most brilliant minds I could only dream of. I was working for the Canadian Sports Institute and was specializing in Paralympic Strength Training. I was traveling to Arizona, Italy and Iceland. In Iceland, I was able to work with a Physiologist who I have the upmost respect for. The long and the short of it was I could not keep up. I was in so much pain and every time we travelled it got worse. I couldn’t control my diet and my doctors were getting concerned. At the peak of it all, I working with the Canadian Paralympic Swim team and we were at a training camp before World Championships. We were doing our normal warm up routine and I almost or did pass out on the pool deck – I don’t really remember but I was told I looked like a ghost.
I returned home and was able to get a colonoscopy in British Columbia thanks to an unbelievable doctor. It was there that I was told I had microscopic Colitis. I went on medications and things seemed to get better; but really they didn’t. I found another doctor in Calgary and was referred to a GI specialist who told me that I didn’t really have “true colitis” and to just eat bran buds and work on stress management”. I did – I meditated myself to the bone. And nothing. Well, I mean it helped and I love meditation to this day, but my health still deteriorated.
I altered my career path slightly as the travel had become more difficult with my digestive health issues and necessary dietary restrictions. So, I started working for Copeman Healthcare as an Exercise Physiologist in a more clinical setting and I loved it. It also allowed me the time to become more serious about looking into natural alternatives. I started with an outstanding Naturopathic Doctor (ND), Allison Beach in Kamloops BC, and she literally saved my life. She taught me about low stomach acid, placed me on supplements to manage my symptoms and helped me alter my diet (gluten-free, dairy-free and eventually egg-free). We improved my digestion and overall health and I was able to get to a place health wise that I could get off of my medications and get pregnant. With my ND in BC and me living in AB, there came a point where it was difficult to work with someone long distance and I had to switch to someone locally.
I then started working with Liane Erickson, a ND who specializes in pregnancy, babies and children. She managed my health all throughout two successful, amazing pregnancies and I could not be more thankful for her. She encouraged me to get tested for SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), however I could not treat it until I was done breastfeeding. I was tested and I did in fact have SIBO, which was contributing to the inflammation in my body. I managed my symptoms until my son was finished breast-feeding. By this point, I had gotten to the point where I was feeling nauseous daily and I could barely eat without excruciating pain. I remember waking up on many occasions and would spend 3 to 4 hours in the fetal position crying on the floor in my bedroom and my husband had no idea how to help me. This was a common occurrence over the past 5 years. Other times I would go to a “healthy” restaurant and my order would have an ingredient that my body had difficulty digesting like quinoa in a pizza crust and I would literally crawl into the house when I arrived home as the pain was too intense to walk.. There were many days and nights like this over my journey. Other points I would experience extreme nausea. It felt like I had the worst flu you could imagine but it persisted. I was incredibly happy to have a day or even a few hours of reprieve. Ok…Back to the story. Liane then referred me to a Naturopath who specialized in SIBO (apparently I was a difficult case). I stopped nursing and we started treatment.
I am now working Dr. Farheen Madatali.. She is the most outstanding practitioner I have ever come into contact with. She has helped me address my health conditions and now we are working towards getting back to eating like a normal human being. This is still a process, but it was completely worth it. Through this, I have found my passion for cooking and creating recipes - I have truly discovered my creative outlet. The quality of my life has been and continues to be greatly impacted through my journey with food. I know there are many health stories that are far worse than mine, however, that is not what this is about.. It is my hope that in sharing my story, it will encourage people to keep being an advocate for their own health and to instill in those who read this, that gastrointestinal health is so important to our overall wellbeing.