We all have one, some of ours are still on going.
Don't give up to find your happy ending, it took me 6 long years to unlock the truth behind mine.
My story is complicated.
I didn’t have a weight issue when I began my Paleo lifestyle so that's not why I chose to stop the grains, dairy and processed sugars. A sudden unpredictable health issue left me wanting to understand what had happened and how I could learn to never be sick again.
My health journey has taken so many unpredictable twists and turns and I am only now really coming out of the tunnel into the light.
So let’s go way back to the beginning.
I grew up in a regular family in the south east of England.
We did what most people did and celebrated life events with sugar and cakes.
I have never been hugely overweight, although there was a "puppy fat stage" in my late teens but I was told that was ‘normal’. I would joke about having a cast iron stomach when it came to food and I ate exactly what I wanted without any ill effect.
I’d chosen to become a vegetarian when I was eleven.
I’d had to write an essay for school and discussed if it was right to kill animals for food. I have always had an ethical stance on how and where my food should come from. This essay changed my mindset and from what limited pre-internet resources I had available to me then, I’d made a decision and it was one I stuck to for thirty odd years.
I’d eat Muesli bars, fresh juices and soy products as well as all the fruit and veg I could eat. I decided to leave nuts and seeds out of the equation after being taught that these were very high in fat and would make you fat. I also consumed dairy products, (after all the animals hadn't died to produce these products). I mean, how could I live without ice-cream?
I was a ‘Linda McCartney vegetarian. I’d happily eat a ‘vegetarian sausage’ or similar.
Being vegetarian was not an easy thing to do in my house. I was second youngest of five and our household was always a busy kerfuffle of weekday dinners of meat and three veg (one always being creamy mashed potato). We had ‘Sunday tea’ which consisted of one of my mum’s heavenly bake ups of mince pies, sausage rolls, a huge trifle, sandwiches, vol-au-vents, chocolate biscuits and crisps.
As the years went by and processed convenience foods crept in, these teas were transported into the nineties with throw-in-the oven pastry bites, frozen chocolate éclairs, cheesy biscuits, peanuts, Swiss rolls, almond fingers and the list goes on.
For the English reader out there I was a product of the ‘Iceland generation' even though my mum was an amazing cook, once this cheap and exciting shop f rows of freezers landed in our local high street, there was connivence, throw in the oven meals of every type and description. Still concerned for me, my mum would still ask if I wanted ‘just a little bit of chicken’ every Sunday roast or some Turkey at Christmas.
Packed-lunches for school and work were always a round of processed white bread with margarine (a healthier option to butter), processed meats like polony or wedges of cheese and tomato, or pickle, followed by an individual wrapped cake and or chocolate biscuit and an apple. Yummo! School lunches (or dinners for the English) were a bigger treat of hamburgers, sausage rolls, pastries and hot chips, all washed down with juice and a pudding, tart and yep, more custard!
As I hit my teens and starting hanging with friends at the local pub, I didn’t really like alcohol and instead drank Diet Coke, thinking it was a healthier alternative.
As I hit my twenties the ‘puppy fat’ disappeared and my weight stabilised. I wasn’t fat and as I moved non-stop most days (but didn’t exercise per se), I thought I must be doing something right. I hardly got sick apart from an influx of mouth ulcers when I had overdone it on the sugar and the yearly bout of tonsillitis. A visit to the doctors fixed that with some antibiotics and a week or two off school.
The mouth ulcers later became a regular thing. I made this amazing fudge, a signature treat which family and friends would ask me to always bring to meetings, get togethers and family teas. The problem with my fudge was that it tasted so good I couldn’t stop at one piece. I also made an indulgent Tiramisu, an almond slice and a fruit cake.
I was a chocoholic and a sugar head. The addiction had taken hold as we now know at a very young age. The scary thing looking back, is that I was not alone. I was like many people today, linked emotionally through tradition, love and memories to this ‘happy food.’
Fast forward a few years and life was good, most things in my adult life were slipping nicely into place and I felt good about where I was, where I was heading and to be honest didn’t really think about food and how it affected my body (other than weight). I, like many others, saw food like an emotion, as a daily link to happiness, home, childhood and celebration.
Now I was an adult and a mum and I worked out regularly.
I didn’t really think much about the family sized chocolate bar I consumed every night as I prepared dinner (yep you read right, whilst I cooked dinner). I knew, obviously, it wasn’t the smartest move, but nevertheless it had no effect on my health and had become a part of my nightly ritual. So I worked a bit harder at the gym the next day. Easy.
Now as a young mother of two I loved baking, providing my children home cooked comfort foods that traditionally I had been accustomed to. Just like lots of people out there I was sucked into the calorie fallacy, that if I burnt those calories off, I’d stay healthy and slim. With my gym membership and trying to compete with how good I looked at the school gates, I did start to think about what I ate, swapping white flours to whole grains, low fat yoghurts and all of the other lies that we are consistently being told as to how we can stay healthy and fit. I drank skimmed milk, stopped sugar in my tea and coffee. I was doing well.
I didn’t even stop to think that the sugar I stopped adding to my tea was the same sugar I had poured it into a huge Victoria sponge cake earlier on that week. I suppose if it was hidden, out of sight, out of mind.
I was a hypocrite.
I can remember moaning at my mum putting sugar on everything she ate. Sugar on strawberries, in cream, her tea, even on top of her tomatoes in a sandwich. “It’s bad for you!”, I’d say as I scooped up a huge bowl of creamy ‘low fat’ milky pasta or yoghurt. “It’s bad for you!” I’d say even though I had just inhaled a giant cheese straw and a chocolate bar on the way home from the gym.
I also secretly completely understood why my mum put sugar in her Doctor Pepper to “take the fizz away”. I loved flat Coke. My mum said it gave her energy; this is what many people believed growing up after the war. My mum was tall, beautiful and slim. She had loads of energy, looked younger than her years and she went dancing with my dad sometimes five nights a week at various country music clubs. Maybe she was ok because she was burning off the fat? It seemed to be working for her.
Fifteen years later, my mum began to get sick, very sick, and lost her battle to pancreatic cancer in 2009. You see, what no one realised, including me, is that she was fat on the inside, skinny on the outside. To look at she seemed slim and healthy, but her organs would have been lined with visceral fat, the dangerous unhealthy fat. Her immune system had began to break down. She’d been unwell for a while but had just been told we need to expect that when we get older and it was just her age.
When the doctors did finally begin to listen, thinking she may have a gall stone, we discovered it was too late.
Being 'skinny' doesn't determine our health. In my mum's case she was no better off than being morbidly obese. It saddens me that we as a population still don’t understand the truth about sugar. It’s not our size that matters, its what we are fuelling our body with to sustain a healthy balance of good fats and nutrients. Having a healthy blood sugar, reducing insulin spikes, increasing good fats with a small to moderate well-sourced protein and lots of veggies and plant based foods are key to helping our bodies stay on track to optimum health.
It wasn't until I got my first wake up call that I began to question the link to what we put in and on our bodies was information for our bodies to thrive or dive. It was a few years later when I had a check up at my local dentist…
Before this particular check up, everything seemed fine. I was as strong and healthy as I had always been, considering I was still eating empty calories with lots of convenience snacks and biscuits.
“Just in for a check-up today?” “Yes,” came the reply.
A little after an hour later, I'd had X-rays and had been told that I had a tooth cavity in one of my top molars. When I was having the tooth drilled and filled I was referred to the dentist in charge. He explained that it was worse than originally thought and a root-canal would be needed to save the tooth. They could temporally fix it for now. There was an infection in my tooth and I'd need a dose of antibiotics before seeing the endodontist. (no.1)
After my ‘check up’ that day I began getting a lot of sinus problems, my mouth was sore and my sinus headaches lasted days into weeks. As I was convinced that it was my tooth that was causing this pain I went back to another dentist who told me I still had an infection due to the gum not being cleaned out properly and would need another set of antibiotics before having my root-canal (no.2!!). The tooth was then re-drilled out and re-cleaned and re-filled. Excruciating! Thank goodness for painkillers and anaesthetic. Unfortunately for me this didn’t really help as the infection had passed into my sinus cavities and the sinusitis and headaches were getting worse. I tried numerous other remedies, but all in vain.
At this time I was a full time primary school teacher, and any primary school teachers out there know that it’s a crazy busy day everyday, without a minute to spare.
I carried on with painkillers and mouthwashes, steaming rituals morning and evening just to get through, but this one day the pressure in my head was building at an uncontrollable rate. I thought I was having a migraine as I had never had one before. During a DOTT (Duties Other Than Teaching) I collapsed with the immense pain in my head in a heap at school, lost my vision, felt nauseous, and so Bendy came and collected me as I couldn’t drive. I slept for nearly two days and slowly began to feel better. However the sinusitis was still there and not going away.
A week or two later and living off of pain killers I was finally off for root canal treatment if I didn’t want to lose my tooth. I was talked into this option after expressing that I didn’t really want to lose a tooth, and he agreed that it was different for a lady to lose a tooth than a man for vanity reasons.
I was prescribed another lot of antibiotics, (no.3!!!) even though I told him I was still taking some and was assured these target a different area, these making sure the infection from my tooth was clear before entering into root canal treatment.
After treatment another lot of antibiotics were prescribed to prevent getting another infection, (no.4!!!!).
I was told that not all root canal treatments are a success.
There was still a 50/50 chance that I could lose my tooth. I went back for my check ups twice after the surgery and even though the tooth was still very sore and I was getting headaches I was told that it was a success and I didn’t need to come back.
A few weeks later after coming home from work I sat down to a plate of veggies and rice, poured over some hot chilli sauce I'd never had before and began to eat. Three mouthfuls in and my mouth did not seem to want to respond in it’s usual chomping up and down motion? I had tingling in my lips and down one side of the jaw; was it a side-effect of the root-canal? I felt my face was numb and drooping. I thought I was having a stroke!
After completing the stroke test tongue action, top to bottom and side to side, I convinced myself I was all good and it must be the chilli sauce that I was having a reaction to. I took some antihistamines and went to bed to sleep it off.
The next morning I got up as usual, not looking my best, but nevertheless got dressed, put on some make-up and got ready to go to work. I didn’t have much feeling in the right side of my face and my jaw was still drooping. I looked like a stroke victim but still convinced I was having an allergic reaction to the chilli sauce I went into school after popping more pills.
On arrival at my school, and probably scaring a few of the children along the way, my deputy principal said I should go straight to the doctors or hospital. Was it that noticeable? Ouch, I was beginning to think the reaction was a bit more serious than originally thought. So I considered he may be right and off I went.
By the time I was seen, most of my right side of my face was numb, and the left side under my eye. I then realised I was paralysed. I couldn’t blink, smile and was slurring my words. I couldn’t move 80 per cent of my face. I felt the tears roll out of my eyes down my cheeks. I was told it was most probably Bells Palsy, a form of facial paralysis resulting from a dysfunction of the cranial nerve VII (the facial nerve), causing an inability to control facial muscles on the affected side. Often the eye in the affected side cannot be closed. So even if it was Bells Palsy, this was not good! I was sent for a routine head scan and to see a neurosurgeon. He wanted to attack the problem head on (excuse the pun) and prescribed some very powerful antibiotics (no.5!!!!!) just in case it was some type of infection.
The doctor could not tell me why this happened and couldn’t really tell me how to fix it. While waiting to see the neurosurgeon (he had to fly to Brisbane for a charity event) as he would need to see head scans, I spent days and days in physio, 3 – 6 hours a day in front of a mirror trying to move muscles in my face that before now I didn’t even know I had. Anyone out there who has had Bells Palsy knows how frustrating it is and my heart goes out to any stroke victims and what they endure.
It’s sad, frustrating and hard work! Your eyes dry out, you have to tape them shut in the shower or to sleep. Chewing is out of the question, unless you want to dribble and spit food everywhere. So I began juicing. A fast working, easy way to get healthy nutrients into the body to help it heal.
I don’t know where I got this idea, maybe the internet but it seemed to help. At the time I didn’t understand how the human body works and processes foods and liquids and I used way too many fruits over veggies. I must have been consuming a lot of sugar. However, over the coming days there were improvements and some of the face muscles were coming back to life. Phewee!
Returning for a follow-up with the neurosurgeon he confirmed a brain infection, or an abnormal inflammatory response in the frontal lobe near my orbital canal. A what? A flipping brain infection? How? Why? When? It seemed (and this is our take on it) that the infection in my tooth that was packed in with a hard filling had nowhere else to go except up my root canals and into my facial nerves and into my sinuses, travelling up through my optical canal and yep, into my brain.
Apparently I was very lucky and was recovering quite well.
We know that antibiotics kill bacteria right? What I didn’t know, realise or had given a moments thought to at the time was that the side effects of antibiotics are not selective in choosing which bacteria to kill.
All the good bacterial colonies in the gut die along with the bad. My gut had just received bombshell after bombshell, wiping out any healthy bacteria and compromising my stomach acid and causing a whole manner of digestive issues.
Even so I was a pretty happy chick, I had 97 per cent of my facial muscles back in working order. I now have a slightly wonky smile, but to anyone else I have made a full recovery. Feeling very lucky and a feeling of never wanting to go through anything like that again, a health check was indeed needed. I had decided, there is no way I was going to be ill again, if I could help it!
Eating healthy, being healthy, exercising and staying positive. I had a new lease for life and was very thankful for it. I still had all my teeth and a face that worked again. So on went my trainers and I went out for a run. Now I’ve never really been a runner or a particularly sporty person. Drama was always my thing growing up.
It was hard work. I couldn’t get to the end of my street without feeling like my lungs were on fire and my heart was in my throat. Determined, I went out again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that and before long I was running around the block. After persistence and some great tunes on my iPod running became fun. For me it was de-stresser, some me time and the high after was like nothing I had experienced before.
Before long I had met some runners at the Rockingham Beach Parkrun and we then met on a Sunday morning too.
6 months later I completed my first half marathon in a pretty good time.
Looking back, I had always joked that, even though I choose not to eat meat, I could eat almost anything else without any worries. I never had an upset stomach, the hotter and spicier a dish the better. Pastry, sweets, cakes and pretty much anything else. But not anymore. I was beginning to notice bloating every time after I ate.
Before long, it seemed like anything I ate was making me sick. Spending hours on the toilet, excessive bloating, tiredness and a general feeling of un-wellness. This went on for sometime, with several tests from the doctors to see if I was celiac as it seemed bread was the biggest trigger to my bloating. I would have to wear baggy, elasticated clothes to work, as I knew by lunch time I would look three months pregnant and by the time I got home in the evening I was ready to give birth.
An elimination diet was the advice I got from lots of family and friends who were now very concerned. I had gone from fit and healthy to being a complete wreck! The running kept me going and the bloating didn’t actually hinder me from this because I ran in the mornings.
I began to read if there was any other ways to stop the painful bloating. I learnt about IBS, autoimmune and other related issues.
At the same time MKR (My Kitchen Rules), a cooking competition television show hosted by two of our top celebratory chefs here in Australia, had begun, I think, it’s third season. One of the hosts, Pete Evans, was looking noticeably rather fit. He had hit the media’s attention because he had lost weight and trimmed up due to a new diet he was on, ‘The Paleo Diet’. So I investigated. I was intrigued to learn that most of the foods that were making me bloat and sick were foods Pete Evans had chosen not to eat. For the last few months I had been angry that I couldn’t eat some fresh bread with jam, or a bowl of muesli without looking like I had put on a fat suit. Once I started to learn about our gut health and how it affects how our bodies run, how we as a race aren’t meant to be consuming grains, dairy and sugar I felt like I had been given the secret key to a long and healthy life.
I immediately began eating a Paleo diet, well a vegetarian version at first, and began educating myself about the science behind it. Wow, what an eye opener. Later I introduced fish. Eventually, after thirty three years of not nourishing my body properly, I introduced broth at first and then chicken and beef. I am now a fully fledge (well-sourced) meat eater.
It still fascinates me today how many lies we are being told, how many antibiotics are being handed out and how much radiation I was exposed to after each x-ray and scan. These have major effects on your health, thyroid, muscles and joints. These had had major effects on my health and I was paying the consequences. The Paleo clean eating movement made sense and had scientific evidence to back it up. After all, Mother Earth provides us all her gifts as medicine in the form of food, the sun in the form of vitamins, plants, animals and the ocean as the healing modalities we need to thrive. It is a subject that I will never stop learning and sharing.
Unfortunately, my story didn't end there. It seems more learning was needed. After adopting the Paleo principles I still tried to replace too many westernised modern foods like bread and cakes. Spending way too much money on ingredients I would create and bake paleo versions of my favourites. I still didn't get it. I was still eating too much sugar, even though it wasn't processed sugar, it was still sugar. I was still feeding the bad bugs in my gut.
I think what really was the turning point for me was just after my dad being sent home after chemo with stage 4 lung cancer I had a nasty fall. While tending to his garden, I got my foot stuck when using the lawn mower, twisted, fell and tore all the ligaments in my ankle and fractured my sacrum. It was three weeks before Christmas, (what I though would be my dad’s last Christmas) and my siblings were flying into Perth. It was mad, as I hopped around in a moon boot, not being able to sit because the pain in my back was so sore, I grinned and bared it. I had to be strong for everyone else.
I did the best I could while still reading and learning about how my body worked. Not being able to go on my daily 7-10km run was also taking it's toll as I realised how much I missed it. Time for yourself is so important.
Environmental factors, stress, lifestyle and convenience food all has its part to play on our health.
Due to my sacrum injury, even seven months after my accident, I wasn’t sleeping properly and often had to sleep on the floor to find any respite. I wasn’t getting outside except to go to work and it seemed things were all building up. I began to get pins and needles, brain fog had been there for a while, constant back pain, chronic headaches that sometimes lasted 4 or 5 days at a time, sugar cravings were ridiculous. I also had stabbing pains like electric shocks radiating through my body and I was so, so tired, except when it was bed-time. I began dropping things and the kids had noticed that I couldn't find simple words in my vocabulary like 'cat' or 'washing machine'. I couldn't concentrate for very long and I seemed to be living this lie.
Here I was promoting Paleo and not doing too well at all. The more I studied, the more I realised that autoimmune factors were on the cards. After seeing doctors who told me my basic bloods all looked good, great in fact, and that it was 'all in my head', 'I wasn't getting any younger' and 'maybe I was more sensitive', whatever that means??? 'I was most probably working too hard, 'it was probably my hormones'. Even though you said they were in normal range! I later discovered that ‘normal ranges’ mean very little in most tests and are just used as an average and a guideline.
I was doing everything right though and was still suffering, was still slowly putting on weight and no doctor could seem to find out what was wrong with me. It was beyond frustrating.
Even though I was now eating well and in balance with my body I was not providing the body/mind connection balance and harmony. With new and old symptoms I found out that I was in a state of chronic stress (fight or flight) and chronic adrenal fatigue. It seems while being under so many other stress factors, running 100kms a week had not done me any favours. The constant pounding of the pavement and pushing my body further and further sent me hurtling in the wrong direction.
I was seen by a rheumatologist as they started to think I might be suffering from Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), which is inflammation of the spine, which affects other organs and tissues in the body.
I woke up every morning unable to move and barley walk. My joints were inflamed and very sore, but the more I moved the easier they became. I began getting headaches again and I couldn't believe I was still healing.
Several tests and several hundred dollars later and AS was ruled out, back to the drawing board.
After a recent episode of Trigeminal neuralgia (TN or TGN) (a chronic pain disorder that affects the trigeminal nerve) I found out this may occur due to compression from a blood vessel as the nerve exits the brain stem, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or trauma. Less common causes include a tumor or arteriovenous malformation. A recent scan revealed some lesions on my brain.
I was then given a temporary diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, (which I later came to realise was a generic term when they don’t really know what’s wrong with you) but was waiting for a proper diagnosis of possible Multiple Sclerosis, subject to other tests coming in and a follow up brain scan.
At this time I began studying at The Institute Of Functional Medicine, under Jeffery Bland and Mark Hyman. It was on this road to self discovery and new knowledge I began to piece together the many factors that had led me to where I was at this time. I created my own Timeline and life Matrix to understand what areas in my body had gone wrong and when. I studied autoimmunine disease, hormones and how we are connected with every cell in our body, all telling each other information about how react and interact.
By doing the detective work on my self I needed to find someone else who understood that would get my complicated string of events.
I hunted down and eventullay found a wonderful integrative doctor who totally ‘gets it’. It’s taken forever to find him and cost me a fortune in tests and so called ‘specialist’ fees along the way and not one of them had a clue what was wrong with me and I felt fobbed off by all of them.
I have had a barrage of tests that a regular GP wouldn’t understand let alone arrange for me and most of my tests were sent across the country or over seas to Germany.
I have now had four positive tests and a diagnosis that I have Chronic Lyme Disease and hypothyroidism.
This explains the facial paralysis and all the other symptoms, including weight gain even though I follow a low carb Paleo diet.
It means my thyroid wasn’t functioning properly either and I am so happy to have finally found out what is wrong with me and it means I could formulate a plan of attack to get better. Thank goodness I was living a clean eating and toxic free lifestyle. It meant I was still able to get through most days. I would hate to even imagine what I would have been like if I hadn't been so strict with my food and lifestyle habits. I really believe that this is what kept me just ticking over. Great friends and family support have also been key. Just knowing that your loved ones believe in your fight to find something more than it "being in your head" and "other people would love to be as healthy as you" according to another doctor as my basic bloods looked 'normal'.
I’m now taking some thyroid support, regulating sleep and circadian rhythms, working on my breath, using daily meditation, yoga and walking. I have cut out all types of sugar to fight the Lyme infections and I use other natural remedies like essential oils to help my recovery and recover I will! Stronger than ever! I have a message to tell and people to help find their recovery pathways.
After studying as a Functional Medicine Health Coach I feel I have complete empathy and understanding of the frustration some of my clients have also experienced in their wellness journeys. As functional medicine states, there is so much more than diet alone to complete wellness. It is important to reconnect the mind body experience and heal every aspect of our being, physiological and mental.
Life body medicine addresses' movement, sleep, food and relaxation and working on only one will only get you so far. I was not practicing what I was preaching! Until now!
So it is with this passion and spirit that I and my gorgeous husband (Bendy) want to share how we began our journey down the road to regaining our health and how my unconventional family have adapted to meet each of our individual needs when following either a LCHF (Low Carb, High Fat), Paleo and or Primal way of life.
So please come walk on the wild side of life with me, Mel, and the rest of The Paleonutter clan and unlock your true potential to a healthier and happier you!