How Changing My Diet Saved My Life

Disclaimer: this is a personal story – I’m not a medical professional and don’t pretend to be. I can’t give advice and highly suggest if you have any health issues to consult with your doctor. 

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How Changing My Diet Saved My Life

Those that know me in real life, know this story already.  In fact, anyone who’s ever tried eating a meal with me probably knows this story or at least some of it. Today I’m sharing it because I think it’s important for others to hear. Mainly, because it’s so vital to how I live out my motherhood effectively and fulfill the duties of my state of life, and sharing my thoughts on that is part of the mission of my blog. But also because I know the topic impacts far more people than we realize, and hopefully this story will help someone who needs to hear it. Whether we want to admit it or not, diet and the food we put in our bodies can have a tremendous affect on us.

Before starting, I want to say that I share this from a stance of vulnerability. It’s in no way shared from a perspective of being holier-than-thou in regards to health or food choices. If this isn’t your struggle, or you don’t quite understand it, that’s okay! I just ask for compassion to those it touches.

Okay, so where to start? My health was pretty average my entire life. I ate good garden and home-cooked food growing up, and I also ate a lot of junk food (my favorite being those Little Debbie snacks. Droooool.) But I was active and healthy – always involved in sports and other extra-curriculars and full of life and energy. Softball was my passion in high school, and in college I kept up a regular regimen of work outs, runs, and athletics for fun. I’ve always been fairly lean, but there was always a healthy amount of chub to love on me.

Along the way, little health issues started to appear. After living in Jamaica during a semester off in college, I began losing tons of weight without trying. A few months after that, I got my first bonafide Central American parasite on a trip to some remote villages in Honduras. I had my first asthma attack during a flag football game my senior year of college which the doctor chalked up to living in a city with poor air quality for so long. It wasn’t too long after these issues that I fell into a real depression and needed the help of medicine to come out of it. Basically, in hindsight, it was a series of my first red flags things were changing in my once healthy body and somehow they were all related.

While working and engaged, I still noticed my health wasn’t quite right. I had a handful of symptoms that were alarming enough and new to me that compelled me to see a doctor about them. Without much luck, he tried forcing birth control on me through some pretty disrespectful arguments declaring that my issue was stress related and the pill would help. He also commented that I shouldn’t have children right away in my marriage. Needless to say, I left that practice not quite convinced stress and the pill were the cause and answer to my problems. I wasn’t sick enough yet to push it further and I was too busy wedding planning to care.

Our first year of marriage was incredible – I remained working in full time ministry, we welcomed our first boy a short 9 months after the wedding, and while stressful at times, it was a beautiful life. I remained thoroughly addicted to caffeine, Taco Bell, and late night rum and Cokes with my husband (once baby was born, obviously). I still ran, just with the help of my inhaler.

Around a year and a half into parenthood, I began also having visual migraine auras that terrified me. Not knowing what they were, I saw an eye doctor and retinal specialist who told me I was “healthy” and found no cause. Soon after that, I was still losing weight, majorly lacking energy, and having new minor issues perpetually creeping up on me. After some blood work and a visit with my OB, I was again declared “healthy” and just stressed.

Soon after this, we found out my husband was accepted into the Coast Guard and I was also expecting our second, so life just kept moving and I tried not to worry. We changed some of our ways and focused on eating healthier foods and some organic foods. But overall, things were basically the same as usual. Me with random and mysterious health issues, doctors with no answers, and a busy life that kept me distracted from it all.

All of that changed dramatically when our second son was born. The pregnancy was hard, but I surmised it was the chaos of moving mid-way during the pregnancy, my husband’s new work schedule, and my first year as a stay at home parent.

But the delivery was life altering. Long story short, through God’s grace alone, I was in the right place at the right time when my placenta started detaching from the uterine wall and I began bleeding out. Time was of the essence, and I was provided immediate care and our baby was born via c-section.

How Changing My Diet Saved My Life

The surgery was hell. At one point I no longer could feel myself breathing and felt as if I was suffocating. I later found out they couldn’t stop the bleeding and if I hadn’t received such prompt surgery I may not be here today, and possibly our son wouldn’t be here either.

Recovery was the worst experience of my life. The first night was excruciating emotionally as my husband and first born slept at home and I lay awake alone in the hospital bed with my baby in the nursery being fed formula since I had no milk and too many drugs in me. Two days later, I still couldn’t talk above a whisper or walk more than a few feet without becoming breathless. That day they finally gave me a blood transfusion which was much needed.

Whatever that surgery, drug combo, and traumatic birth did to my body was definitely the hay on the camel’s back so to speak. It destroyed my health. The physical recovery to feel half way normal (as in take a shower without my husband holding me up so I wouldn’t black out) took around three months after birth. I began having a slew of new health issues that were terrifying. My body was literally falling apart and destroying itself. I was unable to push a stroller my body was so ill and weak.

In addition, without the physical health to bring me through the recovery, my mind and emotions began to suffer as well. I later discovered I was dealing with birth PTSD on top of it all. It was some of the darkest and loneliest times of my life, filled with physical and emotional pain and suffering.

Around the 5 month mark, I realized I had to change something to reverse whatever was going on. Since there was no medical malady to be found in my blood work, I was on my own in a lot of ways. I began researching my symptoms and talking with friends. I spent hours pouring over medical literature and scientific blogs. Finally, I determined it would hurt nothing to try adjusting my diet for a month and see if there was a change, since most of my symptoms indicated gut issues and possible autoimmunity which respond well to diet. If not, I’d push for more invasive testing.

I started with a simple gluten free diet. It helped, but not enough to convince me fully that all of this was something food could cure. I chatted with a friend and she encouraged me to go further and try a healing and elimination diet to see if it would help more. Finally, after 7 months of extreme suffering with no answers, I started the diet. Within four days, we saw a night a day difference.

And not just a little difference.

The difference it made was nothing short of miraculous. It was as if a switch flipped in my body and I could live life normally again. The migraine aura completely disappeared without a trace. I began gaining weight again for the first time in almost three years. Whatever had happened to my health that blew up at the birth, it all responded fantastically to a nourishing healing diet. I had my life and my motherhood back.

I continued this diet strictly for several months and reversed my health so drastically that by the year mark of the c-section, I was healthier than I had been in six years. I was running without an inhaler, I was going on regular walks with my kids, I had energy I hadn’t seen since my freshman year of college.

What I learned from all of this was a deep understanding of my body and how it responds to certain foods and chemicals. I was able to determine specific food intolerances and mild allergies and also what to eat to help my body thrive. I’ve been able to add supplements that help rather than hinder my health as well. It’s been the hardest but most rewarding experience of my life. All along the way, I’ve seen doctors because I’m always cautious and want to be wise, but to date all agree I was extremely sick and the symptoms were alarming and all agree they cannot find a single medical reason for it and advise me to just stick to a healing diet and lifestyle to stay healthy.

In a lot of ways, I wanted the medical field to find some crazy diagnosis because I was truly so sick and just wanted answers. But really I’m grateful they didn’t find anything because it lead me to something that is so simple and within my control to stay healthy. Will they later find some crazy disease in me? Maybe. But for today, every single doctor I meet with and every single blood draw and test I get, confirms the same thing: I’m the healthiest sick person they know. And whatever is wrong, responds great to my diet changes.

The bonus for all of this physical healing was that I also saw a major shift in my mood during those really hard times. Things that were so heavy became light and panic attacks that popped up from things related to the surgery started disappearing. Though I still struggle in some ways from that event and probably always will no matter how much emotional healing I go through, I am still amazed how much diet impacted that portion of the battle. Having a healthy gut really is the gateway to health for a myriad of issues.

Being on a strict diet is a simple solution but can be really hard – especially when a minuscule amount of certain foods cause symptoms to flare. But to be able to smile again, play with my children, and be a good friend and wife to my husband is worth it all. I know it may sound dramatic to some, but to me and my family, changing my diet saved my life.

I have often felt guilty on this journey, knowing there are countless beautiful people in situations beyond their control that cannot even afford to buy simple food for their children, let alone pick and choose what food they eat. I have often eaten foods I know will make me sick because I started believing that since I had no name or diagnosis for my illness that I don’t really need to do this. And shortly after I’ve done that, I’ve paid for it dearly with my health and realize I need to continue on this path strictly.

How Changing My Diet Saved My Life

It has caused me to understand with a deep humility of heart that this is the cross God has given me in my motherhood. My body isn’t what it used to be. It’s not my own anymore. I’m a mom that has to be careful what I eat and put in my body. Food is my medicine, quite literally.

It was put on my heart one time during prayer this thought: what we would think of a mother with a very serious medical condition who decided not to take her life-saving medicine on the premise that she thought it wasn’t fair to those poor who can’t afford the medicine? When I prayed on that, I realized it would be a form of pride – a false humility. Because as mothers, we do need to care for ourselves in a very basic way so we can provide and care for our children. If we know we need medicine every day, we need to take it for the sake of our children. And for me, I realized I need to take this diet seriously so I don’t fall into a health crisis again. I need to take it seriously so I can be there for my kids every day.

The hardest part about this is quite easily the best part. We live in a culture where everyone is on a special diet and we live in a culture where everyone is on a special diet. This means sometimes I get judged. It means being pushed into a category I don’t belong in – those thinking I’m on a fad diet or I’m doing it because it’s trendy (believe me – I’m NOT. I still cry thinking about eating a real taco….)

But on the other hand, it means I have options. I can easily find the food I need to stay healthy. I can tell people what type of diet I’m on and they can find a Pinterest recipe if they want to bring us a post-baby meal. It means that as much as my heart hurts that others suffer because of lack of food, I have something that’s really difficult to offer up for them that also serves my children by giving them a healthy mother. And make no mistake, the foods I eat are not fancy by any means. They are nutritious and healing and take a lot of time in the kitchen. But they can be a lot pricier than main stream grocery isle foods.

Spiritually, it’s also been fruitful. I’ve had to contemplate sufferings I never imagined I’d encounter. I’ve had to grow in humility as it literally changed who I was on the outside and the inside. It has strengthened my marriage as we have lived out in a very intense way to love each other in sickness and health. I’ve had to accept weakness when those around me are growing in their strengths and successes. In short, I’ve had to embrace the cross and drink deeply of it whether I wanted to or not. And I’ve been given the grace and strength to keep going and to find healing – even if it wasn’t healing as I wanted or on my terms.

It helps me to remember that not only was I given this cross, but for whatever reason, I was given this cross in our modern day where the answers and resources are rather easy to come by. I can’t ignore that diet impacts my health. I’m just doing the next right thing God leads me to so I can remain a faithful wife and mother and have the strength and health to live that out the best I can.

There is so much more to this story, but I hope I’ve shared enough to give you hope if you have a similar cross. Sometimes, the answer is out there just not in the way we expect. And in the end, what will matter most is how we loved. Stay strong if you are enduring sufferings with no answer. Your reward will be great in heaven.

For those interested, here are the supplements I’ve taken to help various issues (these are taken based on my own health issues and in consultation with my doctors and/or midwives. I share for the sake of information – not to give health advice).

After the blood transfusion I took this, and if my hemoglobin gets low during pregnancy:

To help boost my mood if I’m not getting enough sun and to boost immunity I take Vitamin D3:

To help with brain function and immune issues, I make sure to take cod liver oil each day:

During pregnancies, I take this to keep UTIs at bay (they used to be chronic for me):

And I take a good prenatal like this one while nursing and breastfeeding which is made from whole foods and contains no synthetic vitamins:

For probiotics, we drink homemade water kefir daily and during pregnancy I take this:

After the c-section, for scar healing and emotional support, I used DoTerra’s frankincense oil nightly.

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8 comments

  1. I have had problems with stomach my whole life. My mother told me she would take to the doctors, and they told her nothing was wrong. I am 5.6 and my average weight was 100 pounds.

    It was after a surgery the reason for stomach issues finally came to light. I have a birth defect in my pancreas.

    All my kids really remember is mommy was always sick. I went to two different docotrs to see if they could explain what was going on. All the surgeries and procedures should have fixed my problems. Boy were they wrong. One my second opinions told me nothing was the wrong and to go off all my meds and here take this antidepressant. Well i went off the meds but did not fill the prescription. I was sick within days.

    Long story short, this will never go away and will get worse. However, i decided that i would not let it dictate my life, and have since then have achieved a bachelors, masters, and about to finish my PhD.

    Through this i asked God why me, and came to understand this to is my cross. I try to be a role model for our kids to let them know you can achieve what you want no matter what, with the help of prayer. This whole being sick has brought me much closely to God and brought me back to the Catholic church. And I thank God for it every day.

    Reply
    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican October 27, 2016, 7:50 am

      Wow Cheryl – what a difficult journey. But I love your acceptance of the struggle and determination to live in hope and love despite it all. What an example – praying for you!

      Reply
  2. I’ve had a similar story, and girl, it is no easy experience to live through — let alone to share so publicly. Thank you for being vulnerable with us all! p.s. I think you forgot a link to your prenatal — we’re all interested! 😉 So glad that these changes have helped with your healing!

    Reply
    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican October 27, 2016, 9:23 am

      Oh man I’m so sorry you understand this unique struggle! But we are in it together right? And ah thank you! I’ll go update it – it’s MegaFoods Baby and Me Prenatal. I love it!!

      Reply
  3. Thank you for sharing this – it’s very timely for me! Do I understand you correctly that you are eating an “elimination” diet? Like, are you avoiding eggs, dairy and wheat? This is where I’m at right now, day 2… looking to help my excema and gut. Thanks…

    Reply
    1. Angie @ Yellow Pelican October 28, 2016, 2:46 pm

      Yes! I did an elimination and healing diet. I began with Full GAPS but there are many nutritionally sound ones out there. I was able to add back some foods after a while with no reaction but I’m still very restricted in what I eat due to health reasons (but my diet is VERY nutritionally sense – I’m never starving and it’s really nourishing foods that work with my body). Hope this helps and blessings on your health journey – praying it helps!

      Reply

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