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What’s Up with my Gut?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time.

You might know that when my husband, Paul, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009 we made the switch to a plant-based diet. No meat, dairy, eggs, or fish.

So many aspects of my health shifted when I made the switch. I had more energy, clearer thinking, stronger nails, no congestion and I rarely got sick. We were both pretty devoted to our plant-based diet and it served us well for many years. 

shot of sauteed kale with cranberries and pine nuts

At the time, I attributed feeling so good to not eating animal protein since that was the most obvious change.

Looking back, I think it was part of it but I believe the bigger reason was because we started eating whole foods and cut out inflammatory foods like sugar, dairy and gluten. 

Fast forward to this past summer. Although Paul was cancer-free, he was still having some lingering digestive issues that we couldn’t figure out so we began exploring and experimenting. At about the same time, I began studying Functional Nutrition with Andrea Nakayama from Replenish PDX. With Andrea, I started learning more about the digestive tract, gut health, and autoimmunity.

To be blunt, I realized I had some pretty serious digestive issues myself. I looked healthy on the outside but my insides weren’t so great. 

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis a few month’s after Paul’s cancer diagnosis. At the time, I just accepted it since in the face of cancer, it seemed minor. Hashi’s is an autoimmune condition that presents as hypothryoid (under-active thyroid). It’s very common and easily “treated” by prescribing a synthetic hormone, typically Synthroid, which is what I did at the time.

As I learned more, I finally understood that my body was literally attacking my thyroid. My immune system was attacking me instead of protecting me. It’s a sign of much deeper issues and I knew I had to the get to the root of it to truly heal.

woman relaxing at lake

Autoimmune conditions are almost always triggered by stress (I had that in spades with Paul’s cancer) and digestive issues. I put the puzzle pieces together and realized that I had major gut issues.. eek! Honestly, I didn’t know I wasn’t normal until I started to understand what proper digestion could and should be like.

Full disclosure and maybe more than you want to know about me but here goes. For as long as I can remember I had what I jokingly called “fast moving digestion”.  Yup, food went right through me and yup, I’m talking about poop so buckle your seat belt!

It wasn’t so bad that it was debilitating and it’s all I knew so I thought it was normal. It’s not like we usually sit around the dinner table talking about poop so how are we supposed to know what’s normal? I had asked a few doctors about it but I think since I was casual about it, so were they.

Turns out, I have what’s called leaky gut or gut permeability. The reality is, most of us probably do to some degree. In a nutshell, it means that food isn’t properly digested and it’s getting out into your blood stream. When that happens, your body thinks it’s an invader and your immune system attacks.

gut health

This daily fire alarm for your immune system can present as symptoms all over your body like digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, skin rashes, allergies, anxiety, depression, muscle aches, brain fog and more. It’s kind of like having the first day of a cold every day.

This is a major problem for 3 main reasons:

1. You feel kind of or very lousy every single day (see the list of symptoms above)

2. Your immune system is so busy fighting the “food invaders”,  it’s too distracted to fight real invaders (viruses and bacteria) so you end up catching every cold and flu that passes your way.

3. Eventually your body starts to get confused and begins to attack self and that means autoimmune conditions like Hashi’s, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. 

My symptoms were poor digestion, my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, fatigue, a rash on my right foot and red, irritated eyes. Prior to studying Functional Nutrition, I never put it together that these symptoms were indeed a manifestation of my deeper gut and immune system issues. I treated or dealt with them all separately but never dug deep enough to see the connection.

Learning all of this was a huge awakening for me, especially since autoimmune conditions are rampant in my Mom’s family. 

butternut squash soup

As you might guess, my healing journey started with food to see if specific foods were causing my GI issues. I experimented with taking foods out (like grains and beans) and adding foods back in (like fish and grass-fed beef). This was really hard for me. I was pretty committed to the idea that a plant-based diet, gluten-free grains, and beans were ideal for most people.

But I was more committed to healing myself, being open-minded, and exploring the options. 

In addition to the food adventures, I also dove into gut healing big time. The list of what I did is long so I’ll save that for a future post but it has all been part of my healing journey.

This was not a fast process and at times it was very frustrating but around late August, the pieces started to come together.  My digestion started to regulate (yup, talking poop again). My energy felt stable all day. The rash I had on my foot went away. My red eyes started to clear up.

It’s still a journey for me. Healing the gut is never over but I feel great about where I am with it now. As for food, it’s still shifting and evolving. I know for sure that gluten and dairy are out for me. No negotiations there.

I cut way back on sugar, even natural sweeteners like maple syrup and higher glycemic fruits like bananas. I’ve learned to use stevia and coconut nectar to keep my sweet tooth satisfied.

I’m still 99% grain free but have started experimenting a little bit with the seed grains like quinoa and buckwheat. Same goes for beans. Mostly out trying them here and there.  

As for meat, well, I never loved it and I still don’t so I don’t eat it much. When I do, it’s locally raised and direct from a farmer. I have felt really good with some fish like wild-caught salmon, cod and sardines (yes, sardines!) back in so I’m sticking with that.

I also added in a lot more fermented foods like raw sauerkraut and kombucha for a daily dose of good bacteria. And of course, I still eat tons of veggies. That will never change.

It’s been quite a journey and one I needed to take to shift my own health and to give me the knowledge and clarity to best support my clients.

Man on mountain

I don’t share this with you because I think you need to do exactly what I’ve done. Actually, the opposite is true. We are all unique and the food that works for you might not work for me and vice versa.

I share this with you because I hope you’ll start to tune in to what your body is telling you. Symptoms are simply signs in the road that something isn’t quite right.

It’s like when you first open up a jigsaw puzzle and spill all the pieces out on the table. It’s overwhelming and hard to know where to start but once you begin connecting one piece to the next, the full picture starts to emerge.

I think our health is always shifting and we need to be ready and willing to shift with it.

Start listening with the knowledge that your body has the innate ability to heal itself and it’s never too late to start.

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