It all started with food. Although I didn’t have a name for it at the time, I had symptoms of low blood sugar, or reactive hypoglycemia, for as long as I could remember. For most of my life, if I didn’t eat frequently, headaches, shakiness, ravenous hunger, and irritability were the result. People are calling this “hangry” nowadays, but just being hungry shouldn’t make a person feel like that. As a child, on long car trips when my brother and sister and I would start whining and poking at each other, my parents’ best solution was to “Feed Allison!”. My daily diet was typical of most kids’: skim milk on cold cereal for breakfast, sandwiches, fruit, and more skim milk for lunch, and a balanced dinner with some sort of meat, starch, and vegetables. I envied my dad who got to drink the 2% milk with his GrapeNuts for breakfast – oh, that 2% milk was so creamy, but the rest of us stayed away from it because we inherently had gotten the message that it was too indulgent or fattening in some way. We were healthy kids, ran around all the time, and ate fruit for dessert.
Breakfast on Saturdays at 3:00pm
Fast forward to my years at college, where I attended the University of California, San Diego. No bedtimes + AOL Instant Messenger made attending 8:00am classes almost impossible. So I started drinking coffee when Caramel Frapppucinos were all the rage. It helped that my friend worked at Starbucks so we got free drinks. And then piles of waffles at the dining hall for breakfast on Saturdays at 3:00pm. I figured I was basically eating “healthy”, just treating myself once in awhile. And I learned to eat big meals and often snack to avoid blood sugar drops and all that crankiness…it did bother me though that I was turned away from donating blood on multiple occasions at the student center due to my hemoglobin levels being too low. No one ever explained what that meant, but one time someone suggested that I eat more spinach.
When I lived in Costa Rica during my junior year of college, a boy I was dating made me breakfast one day, and as I polished it off, he commented, “Wow, you can eat a LOT!” I was proud of that. I would pretty much eat anything and everything because I wasn’t a picky girl. But Costa Rica marked a point in my life where my health made a turn for the worse. I took many rounds of antibiotics while living there, for sinus infections, yeast infections, UTIs, and skin rashes. I also went on birth control pills.
Coffee & Diet Soda
In the years that followed, my sugar and food cravings intensified. I was addicted to coffee and diet soda, suffered headaches and irritability every day at 3:00pm, and happily participated in my office’s daily trips down the street for ice cream or coffee. I wasn’t overweight, so I didn’t see a big problem. Plus, everyone was doing it.
When I met the man I would later marry, though, I was motivated to clean up my diet. He was athletic and ate in a way I considered more “healthy”. So I ditched the coffee and soda lifestyle and traded it for soy milk and tofu, low-fat foods, and whole grain pasta. I started training for a half-marathon and was running many miles a week. But something still wasn’t right. I didn’t feel that well, and I became obsessed about food. The idea of leaving the house after breakfast for a day of errands, without a bunch of snacks packed or knowing exactly when the next meal would be made me very uncomfortable. I knew if I didn’t eat often, I would feel really bad. On our honeymoon, I remember craving ice cream like crazy, and making it a “treat” almost every day. Unknowingly, I had fallen for the mainstream idea of a “healthy” diet – salads with fat-free dressing and lots of soy products. And it wasn’t working for me.
Okay, so this is the part of my story where I’m going to get real. There is not enough awareness or knowledge about women’s health issues, because they are embarrassing and relate to our private parts. But I’m going to talk about it here, just so you know.
By the time I was recently married, I had been suffering from increasingly frequent vaginal yeast infections for about three years. When my husband and I first became intimate, I was embarrassed to discover that what had previously been my own issue had now become our issue. I went to multiple doctors who confirmed the yeast infections with a culture, but I didn’t hear any novel ideas as to treatment. I wasn’t told that what I had was not an “infection” like a virus, but what is called Candida overgrowth. The yeast Candida Albicans was proliferating in my body.
What I did hear was that I needed to make sure to wash “down there” carefully with non-irritating soap and wear clean cotton underpants. As if my real problem was that I didn’t bathe and habitually wore dirty impractical underwear. Increasingly frustrated, I continued taking the prescription sterioid creams and tablets, and self-administered untold amounts of Monistat. Nothing made any difference. Internet searches made me worried I had diabetes or HIV. A couple of places would mention frequent antibiotic use in the past as being a culprit (check) but I didn’t know what to do about that – just try never to need antibiotics again? Eventually the yeast infections got so bad that the only time I would get relief from the intense burning and itching that kept me up at night was the five days a month when I was on my period.
I heard about yeast possibly feeding on sugar in the diet, but I really couldn’t wrap my mind around how a problem in my vagina would have anything to do with the food that I ate. In any case, my high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet was the best I could do. I tried to stay away from many processed and junk foods, and was definitely eating more vegetables than I had in the past. I had a great time competing in three half marathons and various 10K races over the span of 18 months, and really liked how thin I was! But those yeast infections were getting me down big time. And I eventually had to admit that it wasn’t just the yeast infections.
I started having fainting spells after high-intensity exercise or not eating frequently that would result in unconscious convulsions. One time I fainted in the middle of the night while sitting on the toilet, and hit my face against the bathroom counter on the way down. I was told by a doctor that I had a ferritin level of 13, diagnosing me with anemia. He sent me to a gastroenterologist who recommended a colonoscopy to try to find evidence of internal bleeding. I declined.
Instead, I read the back of a milk carton at the health food store. It mentioned that some people need to “heal their gut” before enjoying raw milk because it may cause a healing reaction. Come again? I googled “heal your gut” while sitting in my classroom after school one day and found the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. Mind explosion! I had found the land of healing foods. Butter, homemade lactose-free yogurt, egg yolks, bone broth, grass fed meat, liver, leafy greens, sauerkraut, and sardines? I was desperate and willing to give it a try.
I Actually Have Control
So, did I give up the sugar? Yes I did. And did the yeast infections go away? Yes, they did. Immediately. I’ve not had another once since that moment in 2010 when I started the GAPS Diet. Dr. Natasha taught me what makes food high-quality and how to eat in a way that ensured I would absorb all the important nutrients I was ingesting. I actually had control over my symptoms. And, like peeling back the layers of an onion, I started a journey to find my true, holistic, wellness. The yeast infections were the outside layer, the most noticeable problem, and the easiest to make go away. But, that was just the beginning.
Nutritional Therapy Practitioner
Over the next several years I went through extensive trial and error introducing new foods and therapeutic lifestyle practices. I geeked out on the emerging science of the gut microbiome and epigenetics. I found the foods that made me feel well and those that made me feel poorly. I realized what types of exercise was supporting my body and what was breaking it down. (Hint: long distance running was breaking it down.) I learned how to chart my menstrual cycles to understand when I am fertile and when I am not fertile so I don’t need to take synthetic birth control pills. I no longer suffer from anemia, IBS, chronic constipation, or low blood sugar, and those fainting spells are a thing of the past.
I retired from teaching public school and became a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and an instructor for the Nutritional Therapy Association so I may educate others about food. I am thankful that now I feel healthier and more balanced than ever. While not “perfect” — I don’t think that exists — I wake up energized and clear-headed, ready to take on every day, and I can live with that.
And now I’m ready to help you! Thanks for listening 🙂