Just shy of age 35, I found myself really sick only for the first time in my adult life and my life completely changed. I was living in Los Angeles, working at a prestigious hospital in oncology genetics, working out at Equinox gym most days, hiking, hanging out with friends, traveling, dating. Most of my friends and family were jealous of my carefree life.
Out of nowhere, I got a very severe case of strep throat that was resistant to antibiotics and came back two more times. I was out of work off and on for over a month. I had a lot of complications and my body never recovered. For months I could not do the same workouts, I was always exhausted and was gradually becoming less and less happy.
Ultimately, I moved to DC to be closer to family and my health declined even more. I was all of a sudden allergic to everything and getting strep and the flu off and on for the entire winter. My mental health suffered due to the combination of a toxic work situation, being sick all the time, and being away from nice weather and a health conscious city. The culture in DC was the polar opposite of LA and all people seemed to care about what getting ahead in politics at any cost. My digestion was terrible and I was gaining weight rapidly.
Eventually I left a toxic job for one that had a great mission, company culture, and flexible work schedule. I was able to go to back to eating clean and working out with a trainer and doing yoga but made no improvement. One week after traveling for work, I could not get out of bed. After three weeks of sleeping 12 hours every night and sometimes napping during the day, I referred myself to a local endocrinologist. Weeks later my blood showed a pretty high DHEA which they rather blindly attributed to PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and prescribed Metformin. I knew I had no other symptoms of PCOS and decided not to take the medication. Even though I had worked in conventional/western medicine for 10+ years, I was never keen on taking pharmaceuticals. I had started to learn about functional medicine piece by piece through a nutritionist at my gym, a group cleanse at my yoga studio, through a paleo-centric podcast and through my own research. My exhaustion stayed the same, but my digestion was worse. I felt sick all the time and was constantly bloated.
I finally saw a functional doctor 6 months later and had a battery of testing done: 30 vials of blood, stool sample, hair sample, 24 hour saliva sample. This initial testing cost me over $3000.00. What it showed was that I had pretty severe adrenal fatigue and out of whack hormones- the most concerning being my estrogen being about 3X the normal range. As someone with an oncology background, this scared me as increased estrogen is a catalyst for a lot of cancers. Surprisingly, my gut looked “pretty good”, but I did have a recent Epstein Barr infection which was really confusing at the time (although now it makes sense).
I was committed to diving in and getting better until the functional doctor informed me that it would cost $2500 a month to see them plus the cost of supplements. I would need 4-6 months at least to get some relief or results. Even though I made a decent living in biotech, I could not afford this. When I inquired about the price, the health coach told me that “people who are sick and desperate will pay anything to get better”. That did not sit well with me.
I am resourceful and travelled for work, so I found a more affordable doctor in another city who would see me remotely when I was not in that city for work. They did some more testing. Additional blood work which showed I had a severe gluten allergy and slight egg white allergy. A breath test showed I had severe SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). I immediately cut out gluten, eggs, caffeine, and alcohol. I ate pretty little amounts of gluten and grains in my day to day life and didn’t drink that often, but cutting coffee was awful. I was in a complete fog for about a month. I had been surviving on coffee for at least 7 years. I let myself rest when I needed to, no electronics before bed, incorporated meditation. I was basically prescribed a paleo diet with a focus on fats for hormones. I traveled for work and brought along protein shake mix, epic bars, nut butters etc. and was the biggest pain at work and social dining events due to my dietary restrictions. I also had an arsenal of supplements- mostly for the SIBO. So before a meal in public I would be downing my digestive enzymes and the myriad of pills I was taking for SIBO. Plus at lunch I was taking an adrenal pill to keep me propped up without coffee. Two months into this I went to Hawaii for a yoga retreat and while the food there was incredibly healthy, there wasn’t a ton of fats or animal protein. I did have some anxiety over what I was eating, but it was out of my control. I remember one night there were only vegetarian options and I ate gluten free pasta and a salad and was so worried about how that would effect all of my mystery diseases. I ate a lot of veggies, fruits and grains and lost 10 pounds in a week and felt great. My functional doctor attributed it “not being stressed”. By the end of March, that weight had come back. I was told I wasn’t trying hard enough and to up my fat and only eat leafy greens. No fruit, no starchy vegetables. I was putting ghee and collagen powder in my decaf coffee and mushroom coffee, cooking in ghee, lard, avocado oil and eating meat, fat and greens.
This went on for a year. I was not feeling any better. My inflammation levels were off the charts, my cholesterol had been creeping up and was now over 200. When I expressed concern I was met with “it’s not that fat, it’s likely the rare times you have wine or some gluten free pasta that’s causing all of this”. I had lost no weight and felt no better after over a year of being closely monitored by a pretty well known functional doctor and health coach. Their solution was to put me on statins for my cholesterol and a thyroid medication just because they had no idea what to do with me.
By this time I had had enough and knew what I was eating was not helpful. I didn’t know where else to turn. Everywhere you look the keto diet is being touted, the paleo and whole 30 movement is huge. I knew there was a reset detox I had done when I first moved to DC and felt great on. I did this for 21 days and felt a little better. Around this time I been learning about human design and how clean my Projector type needed to eat. Also, a lot of Projectors were plant based and off caffeine.
I was not up for another year of trial and error with yet another extreme diet. I had to go back to what I knew best in healthcare: genetics. I researched some companies that did wellness related testing and came across a company called Habit. They essentially test genes related to how you metabolize macros and compare it with how eating copious amounts of fats, protein, sugars and carbs directly effects triglycerides and other markers in your blood. While waiting for results, I was so frustrated that I stopped every single supplement I was taking and just let myself enjoy summer and not worry about food. My test showed that I didn’t break down saturated fats well or protein in large quantities. That is what I had been eating for the better part of 5 years. What it also showed was that I break down carbs very well, except for high sugar carbs. I also was a slow metabolizer of caffeine. I started to phase out fat and animal protein and starting eating healthy complex carbs again. Oatmeal, rice, potatoes, root veggies, and lots of fruit and veggies. My digestion markedly improved.
Around the same time, I had ordered a microbiome test through Viome. This showed that my gut bacteria could not process coffee or cucumbers (among some other healthy foods). I was still drinking decaf coffee and putting a whole cucumber in green juice everyday. My superfoods included black bean, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, salmon, sweet potatoes, cilantro and alfalfa sprouts. These were really easy to incorporate everyday. Getting rid of coffee has been the most challenging for me. Especially in the winter. I’ve also been drinking celery juice every morning consistently which has helped my digestion and energy. My biggest reason for doing this is because the salts in celery juice kills Epstein barr virus. Since I had strep a million times and my liver is never functioning quite right, this seemed like a no brainer.
Another huge part of my healing was working with a transformational life coach and detox specialist in conjunction with the genetic results. He helped me to not be so neurotic about food. Through the work we did together, I became so aware of my feelings, how I felt, what I needed in a day, when to rest, when to say no. Within a few weeks, eating just became natural and intuitive and weight came off and felt amazing. I started a yoga teacher training and started doing really fun workouts again.
In the midst of all of this, I tried so many supplements, foods, exercises, kundalini, acupuncture, reiki, Chinese medicine, deep personal work, float tanks, saunas, flower remedies and so much rest. I also learned about my human design and some of my astrological natal chart. In addition, I had the luxury of not working for several months and really tuning back into myself and my flow.
While I am so grateful that there were functional medicine doctors available to try to help me, I felt like my lab tests were just being matched to supplements. I was not heard and my feelings and lifestyle were not taken into account. I rarely get emotional and two times I was crying out of frustration and was told I was acting ridiculous and not trying hard enough to get well. No doctor ever really pushed changing my lifestyle, looking at why I was a workaholic and always burning the candle and both ends, or dealing with any emotions or trauma. I gave away all my power to these outside entities and stopped listening to myself.
It’s been 5 years since I first got sick and 3 since I tried to heal. Healing takes time and looks different for everyone. Because of what I’ve been through I understand the importance of multiple modalities to get better. I’ve spent the better part of 5 years trying anything and everything, listening to podcasts, doing my own research, and even getting certified as an Integrative Health Practitioner. This certification officially gives me the skills and toolbox to help people heal through diet, exercise, mindset, emotional work, stress reduction, and supplementation.
This type of work is exactly what I needed when I was sick and it is now my mission to help others get well. I feel like I missed out on a lot of joy, fun and just life in the past 5 years due to being sick and being so restrictive with food. I can help others deal with their mystery illnesses in a much more personalized approach with a lot of empathy and love.