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In June and July on the blog, we’re going to discuss gut health. Gut health is a hot topic in the traditional foods world because so many people are not healing despite a traditional foods diet. I became seriously ill and healed my gut before the currently fashionable diets came out. This is my story.
A very wise man in my life often tells me, “A problem well stated is half solved.” Five years ago, we knew all of the problems, but had none of the answers.
I was born 7 weeks early to an undernourished mother who was 95 pounds when I was conceived. My childhood was rather uneventful health wise, other than huge tonsils and repeat ear infections. I grew normally and had none of the digestive problems associated with celiac disease.
I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2001 and was told I’d never had kids. I changed my diet to traditional foods after seeing my cat, Blue, have an ‘incurable’ and life-shortening health problem healed by a species-appropriate diet. I was told he wouldn’t live long and would require expensive, difficult medication until his death.
It had worked for him why can’t it work for me?
While on a real foods diet, I had two miscarriages. The third time was the charm. The pregnancy and birth were uneventful and I suffered from a severe oversupply of milk while nursing my daughter.
I conceived my son after lactation amenorrhea ended, spacing them over two years apart. I carried him while suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum (literally ‘over-vomiting of the pregnant woman’) so severe that everyone was shocked that we both lived through it. I was only consuming traditional foods, complete with raw milk and soaked grains during this time, so we were completely shocked at how seriously ill I was. Most people in the traditional foods community insisted I must be doing something wrong to be so sick, it just wasn’t possible on such a good diet. After me listing a normal day of food and all of the details, they’d throw up their hands in frustration at how they couldn’t find a hole that they could pronounce as the magic bullet as to why I was puking so badly. No one had answers.
I threw up a minimum of 40 times a day for the first 22 weeks, then varying until his birth. I lost 12% of my body weight before I stabilized. He was a homebirth and nursed with gusto from the beginning and he appeared to be healthy. He was ten pounds at birth and thirty by his first birthday, complete with multiple chins. After his birth, my health went back to baseline and the nausea and vomiting were gone.
I had another miscarriage the Fall after his birth. I was unable to lose weight no matter how I tried, and was looking unhealthier by the day despite eating a traditional foods diet. I weighed 235 pounds. My daughter was covered head to toe in eczema and had digestive problems and cavities despite having been exclusively breastfed and never vaccinated. We were eating a traditional foods diet faithfully. She took her cod liver oil and butter oil and ate all the right foods, and I had done everything ‘right’ with her, yet she had problems. It turns out that she was allergic to gluten and dairy, as well as that egg yolk I had so faithfully spoon-fed her since she started solids. I naively believed that despite it being a highly allergenic food, it was the beginning of the route that would lead her to good health.
I remember being on vacation before I got sick. I was standing in the aisle at Whole Foods, holding coupons for Enjoy Life cereal bars, looking at the box prominently labeled “Gluten-Free” and thinking, “Anything but a digestive disease, Lord. I don’t think I could handle that.” The next day, I remember opening the box up and tasting a bar and thinking, “That’s not half bad. I might could live with eating that.” Truer words had never been spoken…
Six months after that vacation, we suffered through the devastating loss of twins. I kept struggling with why my children and I were in such poor health if we were only consuming God-made, traditional foods. Probiotics, even massive doses, weren’t fixing our gut problems and I just couldn’t get my daughter’s eczema go to away completely no matter what I did. I thought joint pain must be normal, but I wasn’t even 30 yet. Surely there was a big piece of the puzzle that I was missing.
My health began to rapidly deteriorate after the miscarriage. Months later, I was still not recovered. On July 4, 2006, I hit what I thought was rock bottom. We were out of town with my husband’s job and after a high-end restaurant meal, I was convinced that I was not going to live through the night. I was throwing up, having diarrhea, having severe belching and hiccups, my whole body was wracked with excruciating pain and I couldn’t move. Every nerve in my body was screaming. I was in a panic and I was sure that I was about to die, the pain was so severe. I just wanted to get to the roof of the hotel and throw myself off to stop the pain. But I couldn’t move. I remember finally passing out, laying on the bed, while fireworks went off overhead.
The next day, a friend told me she thought I had celiac disease and she talked to me about getting tested. Of course, I didn’t want to have celiac disease, so I stalled and delayed. But I did go gluten-free that day, to get a better idea of whether that was my problem or not. We ordered the tests from Enterolab. While we were waiting for the test results, my health got even worse. My true rock bottom had come, and it was after I went off the gluten.
For months I lived with violent nausea and vomiting and severe dizziness around the clock. The vomiting and diarrhea would wake me up all hours of the day and night from a dead sleep and I’d have a split second before I’d start throwing up. I slept on my back with a garbage can between my knees, hoping I’d have just enough time to make it to the toilet before the diarrhea would kick in, too.
Sometimes I’d black out if I stood up. My bones ached and I couldn’t stand up without assistance or move on my own easily, the muscle pain and fatigue was so severe. I was severely cold all the time. Despite it being July, I was living in winter clothes, buried under blankets. My hair was falling out. My sense of smell was so acute I could smell things that no one else could. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function. And still it continued.
I spent time in the ER for dehydration. I had been trapped in my own house since getting home, unable to go anywhere except the ER. I dropped 60 pounds in ten weeks. I was so ill, I left my house only a handful of times in that first year, all but one trip to see a doctor. My family was called in as the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. The doctors left me for dead. I was loosing weight so fast that my skin was hanging off of my body.
At my worst, I was so out of breath that I would have to crawl 20 feet from a mattress on my living room floor to the toilet and rest a while before crawling back to that bed. It went on for months.
The nausea would gradually fade, but any time I’d have an accidental exposure, I’d be back to square one. For nine months I woke up to severe vomiting and diarrhea every single morning. I had to give up gluten, dairy, soy, and eventually egg, cashew, corn and apple were also foods that would make me sick. I felt like anytime I ate, I was playing Russian roulette. It was easier to just not eat. I lost yet more weight.
The isolation was crushing. I only had two friends continue to have contact with me, both of whom kept up with me by phone because neither of them lived near-by. I was unable to leave the house and I had to care for the kids, alone, for the vast majority of the time. I went weeks not seeing another human being outside of my husband, my children, and my parents.
My thirtieth birthday and the twins’ due date came and went with no one except my husband, mom and two phone friends noticing. People whom I thought were good friends were no where to be found. I still wonder how we survived, living on a mattress on the living room floor, alone most of the time with two toddlers to care for. Without help. I spent a year on that mattress, trying to just keep myself and my kids alive while my husband held down a job out of town. I don’t remember most of that year.
I lost two-and-a-half inches off of my height.
The constant nausea gradually became half-day nausea once I was able to get some time to heal and found the right combination of supplements. Eventually it became morning-only nausea, then it disappeared, only to reappear when I would have a gluten exposure. If I got exposed, my immune system would go haywire and I’d have flu-like and digestive symptoms along with joint problems and screaming bone pain for weeks.
After a year, we found I could tolerate dairy cross-contamination and my recovery time from gluten had been greatly lessened. The only allergies that remained were gluten and dairy. I was still dizzy and weak, battling to keep weight on my body. I couldn’t drive due to the vertigo.
As it turns out, I wasn’t just dealing with celiac disease. I was deep in the throws of adrenal fatigue and heavy metal poisoning. All on top of the celiac. Not long before getting sick, I broke a thermometer by my bed and vacuumed it up, sending the particles airborne. I also had a large filling drilled out without protection not long before switching to real foods. I inhaled the vapors and swallowed some of the fragments. When I realized I had just swallowed several pieces of the filling, I thought, “surely they wouldn’t allow it if it wasn’t safe.” Right?
In 2007, we moved to the mountains. I loved the location, but it made the vertigo worse because we weren’t on flat land anymore. My vertigo wasn’t the type that would spin. It would wobble and ripple in a very weird way. Traveling anywhere by car was torture, and walking outside my house was a risky proposition thanks to the sloped ground. I’d stagger and sway or trip occasionally, much to my embarrassment. We couldn’t figure out what was going on.
Then a doctor diagnosed me with heavy metal problems. I had my fillings removed from my mouth and began chelation therapy immediately. I bottomed out at 105 pounds, a total of a 130 pound weight loss. I was a size zero. With every bite of food that I took, my body screamed rejection. I was struggling to hang on and not loose more weight. I would still vomit randomly with no connection to a gluten exposure.
Six months later, I woke up early one bright, April morning after coming off of a round. I grabbed the bed. I was laying on my back, staring at the ceiling. The room wasn’t moving. I laid there, gripping the bed knowing that I was just dreaming and would soon wake up to a spinning room. I don’t know how long I laid there, but I finally realized that I was not asleep. For the first time in years, the room wasn’t moving. I broke down and sobbed. That was my confirmation that the chelation was working and the metals really were what was keeping me sick. I walked down the hall without holding on to the walls. I picked up my little boy without being afraid I’d drop him. I ate my first meal in years without my body screaming rejection and telling me to stop.
I finally had a new lease on life.
It was a long climb out of the black hole. I had to finish chelation, gain some weight and regain my strength.
Today my joint pain and digestive problems are gone. My weight stabilized and now I’m a size 6/8. My tonsils, that had been huge my entire life, have shrunk to a normal size. I no longer have sciatica. My cycles are normal for the first time in my life and my PCOS symptoms (and PMS) are gone. Health problems I never knew could be related to gluten exposure have disappeared. I don’t live my life feeling like I’m constantly in a fog or I’m loosing IQ points. My rapidly encroaching dental problems have stopped and reversed themselves, and I have healed multiple cavities. I keep house, homeschool, take care of the kids and cook on top of running my full-time business.
My children’s eczema has disappeared. Their tooth problems have halted and even reversed. Their digestive problems are gone. Other problems I didn’t realize were connected, like sleep and behavior problems, only show back up if they get accidentally exposed. The only time my children wet the bed after going off of gluten and dairy was when they’d been exposed. They’re both growing normally.
I still avoid gluten like the plague because I don’t wish to risk setting off my immune system again. I’d rather live healthy with a food restriction than to die early of stomach or intestinal cancer or lymphoma, and leave the same terrible fate to my children. I don’t want my children to suffer like I have.
And what happened to Blue the cat? He died of old age after living a long, healthy life on real food. His ‘incurable’ problem never returned.
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KerryAnn Foster runs Cooking Traditional Foods, the longest running Traditional Foods Menu Mailer on the internet, now in its seventh volume. KerryAnn has eleven years of traditional foods experience and is a former Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader. Read about KerryAnn’s journey to health through multiple miscarriages, celiac disease, food allergies and intolerances, obesity, adrenal fatigue and heavy metals.
Founded in 2005, CTF helps you feed your family nourishing foods they will love. With two choices of Menu Mailers, multiple eBooks, Print Books and video-based classes, KerryAnn makes traditional foods easy, accessible, affordable and family friendly for everyone.
KerryAnn founded Nourished Living Network, a network for traditional food and natural living bloggers, in 2011. NLN provides support, publicity and networking opportunities for bloggers all across the traditional foods spectrum. Our Recipe Gallery features recipes from the fifty member blogs and growing.