This is the story of the life I spent eating processed foods and paying little attention to my health and body. I was always a small-boned, petite person. It seemed as though I could just go on forever, eating whatever I wanted. After all, my parents were small people, had no visible health problems, and my metabolism worked overtime which made it difficult to gain weight. What could I possibly have to worry about?
When I was a child, my mother served rice or pasta about once a week for dinner – usually spaghetti with meat sauce or fried rice with meat and vegetables. Our meals were a standard fare of “meat and potatoes” with a good variety of fresh vegetables cooked with oil and real butter. I’m sure my mother used vegetable oil, although I do remember her using olive oil sometimes. Although meats and dairy were a part of our diet at home, I’m sure much of it was processed and full of chemicals. Factory farms were definitely around when I was a child. I would not have known then that eating whole foods was rapidly becoming despised and villan-ized, because processed and packaged foods were starting to take their place at the head of the dinner table in most households, and would do so more and more in the years to come.
The growing up years
Although I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of eating vegetables, my mother was able to get me to eat them in the various dishes she served. But it wasn’t until junior high when I discovered the joys of choice and gained the ability to eat the foods I really wanted because Mom wasn’t watching over as much as in the past- chocolate milk, pizza, deep-fried burritos, french fries, and the amazing selection of food from the vending machine. When I reached high school the menu broadened even more, and as students we had almost total independence as to what we ate at meal and snack times. We were also able to leave campus in our vehicles and go to McDonald’s. Soon I found home breakfast unsatisfying, so I opted for soda pop and potato chips out of the vending machine during second period. My lunches weren’t much better and I rarely ate vegetables or fruits. My body frame was slight and I had always been one of the smallest kids in my class, so I assumed I’d never have to worry about being overweight. I never really enjoyed sports and often felt too tired to really participate the way I could have if I had been eating healthy. Everyone believed I just wasn’t athletically inclined. But was it that I wasn’t capable or was my body suffering from malnutrition?
After my introduction the party scene, I spent a lot of time drinking with friends on the weekends. The food I ate continued to be an array of processed foods with the occasional home-cooked meal (albeit, probably factory meat and conventionally grown produce). Fruits and vegetables were few and far between. By now, even my mother had started purchasing microwave variety and processed foods for us to eat. When I graduated from high school I weighed 95 pounds and had no visible health problems.
I got married in 1994, and my eating habits stayed constant. During college, my husband and I realized there was a better way to eat. We started shopping at our local natural foods store. Every place we went and everything we heard or read indicated that meat and fat were arch enemies to a healthy way of life. We decided to try the vegetarian lifestyle. Although we were never able to become full-fledged vegetarians, we ate about 80% vegetarian food at meals. Our meals consisted of lots of pasta, bread, and rice, fruits, some chicken, and a few vegetables. One day on campus, for no apparent reason I began to experience a very rapid heart rate. It bothered me enough that I had to leave class and go outside for some air. By the time class was over, I was certain I needed to go to the emergency room. My husband took me in right away. The staff ran tests to determine whether or not I had a heart problem. I had no other symptoms, just palpitations. Nothing was found. After those tests, I was scheduled for an echocardiogram the next day. The day after the test, the cardiologist phoned and reported that I had nothing the matter and that it was probably just anxiety. He also offered me a prescription for some type of anti-anxiety medication, which I decided not to take.
These episodes continued off and on for years, sometimes ending up with a visit to my GP, and in extreme cases, the ER. Each time I was pronounced healthy but diagnosed as having “anxiety attacks”. I was prescribed the usual anti-depressant or anxiety medication and sent on my way. This answer was never something I was comfortable with, and I always ended up throwing the prescription away and attempted to treat my problem naturally. My episodes would come and go, and I tried various natural remedies to subdue my anxiety from exercise to herbal treatments. My parents believed I was too overly-concerned about my own health and had become a hypocondriac. Nothing I tried ever worked long-term. According to everyone around me, there was nothing wrong with me and it was all in my head.
Often I felt as though I was going to lose my mind. What could possibly be the matter with my body? I had always eaten whatever I wanted – which included lots of processed foods, desserts, sweets, and liberal amounts of alcohol. It simply never occurred to me that most of what I ate wasn’t real food; I had no idea chips, breads, bagels, pasta, and the foods with fat in them such as meats, cheese, and eggs were full of chemicals and hormones. These foods were a good representation of what I ate for many years, but I never made the connection that what I was eating was probably killing me.
Pregnancy and Surgery
In 2000, I became pregnant with my first and only child. My alcohol consumption had not changed much since college. Eating habits were similar except that now I was back to eating meat and some full-fat foods. I stopped drinking when I learned of my pregnancy. Soon after conception, I began experiencing a shakiness similar to that of low-blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia runs in my family so I assumed it was a genetic tendency. The shakiness continued for about four months. My nurse-midwife did not know what it was and suggested eating frequent, small meals, which I did.
Nothing else remarkable occurred in my pregnancy until month seven when I began to have pain in my lower right side. I went to the midwife and she was unable to determine a cause. Over the next two days, the pain worsened and I was admitted to the hospital for four days to undergo tests and be observed. I was hooked up to a monitor to determine whether or not I was having contractions. Nothing significant was found. I also had an ultrasound which provided no useful information. On day four I was sent home, still experiencing pain in my right side and with no answers as to why this was happening. The following 24 hours was to be the most frightful yet of my young life as I began to bleed and with very intense pain coming every few minutes – much like labor pains. It was early in the morning on a cold winter day, and I was rushed to the hospital once again. When I arrived, I was informed that I was nine-centimeters dilated and ready to give birth. My son was born less than a half an hour later – nine weeks premature.
After the staff rushed my son off to the NICU, I was taken to a room in the maternity ward. My abdomen was distended and painful to the touch, and I was in massive pain. Hours later, I was told to get up and begin to walk around. I was so weakened and in so much pain, I couldn’t stand up without feeling like I would black out. I had been on morphine for the last six days for pain, but that didn’t aid my suffering nearly enough. It just made me incoherent and unable to stay awake for more than a few minutes. The doctors were dumbfounded at what the problem was – despite further tests that included a CT scan, x-ray, and finally a colonoscopy. My abdomen continued to become more and more distended, and I told my midwife how afraid I was that I might die. She didn’t even reassure me that I wouldn’t. Three days after giving birth to my son, I was wheeled into the operating room for exploratory surgery. What the doctors found was unbelievable – my appendix had ruptured and I had peritonitus. Peritonitus is an inflammation caused when an infectious process invades the peritoneum (the thin membrane covering all abdominal organs and the inside of the abdomen). Just how long the infectious process had been underway was unknown, but it was clear that I would have died soon had something not been done.
After the surgery and another week’s stay in the hospital, I was deemed well enough to go home on a strict schedule of three powerful antibiotics, and was told my recovery would be six to ten weeks. That was an understatement. It was a good thing my son was going to be in the NICU for the next seven weeks or so, because I was going to need it. I never bonded with my son in the beginning because of my illness, our separation, and his prematurity. I spent weeks feeling exhausted and incoherent due to the illness and the drugs I was taking – three antibiotics and oxycodone for pain (which has been a popular street drug for some years now). Most days I would only be able to stay awake for about six hours at a time without falling into an uncontrollable, narcoleptic-like sleep in the afternoons.
I started having terrible paranoia and strange hallucinations at night when I was trying to get to sleep – I felt as thought the house was going to cave in on top of me. Finally, out of desperation and certainly against what my doctor would have recommended, I threw all the prescriptions away. I was still in pain on a daily basis, but knew I couldn’t continue on with those pain medications. Incidentally, the only thing which ever helped during my miserable recovery from surgery was an appointment I made to see a naturopath and Chinese Herbal Medicine doctor/acupuncturist. It was the only one I could afford, but it provided pain-free days relief from my abdominal pain.
On the last day of my stay in the hospital, my nurse mentioned that I should be vigilant about gallbladder problems. Not only was this something I had never heard before, but I had also never experienced gallbladder issues in the past – or so I’d thought. I’d been given an ultrasound during my first hospital admission while I was still pregnant, the technician mentioned that I had gallstones. At the time that was the least of my problems.
The night of my discharge from the hospital, I was laying on the couch and began to notice an odd sensation in my abdominal area that was totally foreign to me. It was an indescribable burning pain which overcame me so suddenly that I immediately became nauseated and had to run to the bathroom to vomit. This was to be the first of many “attacks” I would have to deal with in conjunction with a buildup of gallstones. Besides a ruptured appendix during pregnancy, it was one of the most unpleasant and painful sensations I have ever experienced. Over the next seven months, I avoided fatty foods in an attempt to keep my gallstone episodes at a minimum while my body healed from the previous ordeal in order prepare for another surgery.
During that time, I made concerted attempts to treat the problem naturally via herbs and alternative treatments. Because I was a layperson and had no experience with alternative practitioners nor much knowledge about the subject, I failed in my efforts to treat the problem naturally. At the time I attributed it to the lack of success of those methods, but I could not have been more incorrect. Since that time I have talked with dozens of alternative healthcare practitioners who confirmed to me that gallstones are often successfully treated with alternative treatments.
If only I knew then what I know now, I could have saved my gallbladder- the all-important organ that is always dismissed as unnecessary- and I could have avoided surgery by finding a practitioner who could have recommended a good natural remedy and gallbladder detoxification program. And, the sad part is, if I had just cleaned up my diet and lifestyle many years before that, I could have also avoided having my appendix rupture as well. Both of these organs commonly become inflammed and clogged with artificial toxins and chemicals from the foods we eat, and this is normally the primary cause of the decline in their function and eventual need for removal.
My gallbladder was removed in the summer of 2001. Afterward, I had an adjustment period that included some abdominal discomfort and loose stools which I had to sort out through regulation of my diet. Things never really went back to normal, and I was still having some episodes of shakiness here and there. At the time the frequency of those episodes was occasional. But I was getting closer to having that symptom become a daily event. I continued to have overwhelming fatigue, bouts of nausea, muscle weakness, and general malaise.
In 2005, the “anxiety attacks” returned full force. Other symptoms included overwhelming fatigue, nausea, unexplained weight loss, menstrual irregularities, sleep disturbances, diarrhea, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. A visit to my GP revealed that once again, I had no serious health issues but was offered yet another prescription for anxiety. Although I like my doctor, I was dissatisfied with the diagnosis and felt that something else was going on. For months I researched and went through a variety of alternative treatments. Each of these brought me a little closer to finding out what the problem was, but nothing completely eradicated it.
Time, experience, and research revealed that most of my problems were likely nutritionally-related. After changing my diet, taking whole food supplements to mega-dose and allow my body to catch up, eliminating refined carbohydrates and foods, alcohol, caffeine, managing stress levels, and getting regular exercise I began to notice results. It was such a relief. No traditional doctor I had seen over the previous 12 years ever suggested these remedies. Strangely, my odd body sensations, pain, fatigue, and sugar cravings began to disappear. It was unbelievable! And, for the first time in my life, I had a normal blood pressure reading of 110/65.
Thankfully, I finally got the shakiness under control. During its worst times, it was always related to stress and the over-consumption of simple carbohydrates — and not surprisingly, wheat. The best way I can describe it is the kind of shakiness experienced when you have waited too long to eat. This sensation was many times accompanied by other symptoms such as weakness, muscle fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, and heart palpitations. Sometimes I’d be up for four or five hours with my heart racing and unable to go back to sleep. For years I searched for others who experienced the same problem. Most of my searching came up with nothing – a few cases here and there that were similar, but no concrete resolution. Eventually I realized that the more processed foods I ate and continually included in my diet, the worse I felt. My diet now consists primarily of whole foods, and if I stick to that 90% of the time, I feel great.
In addition to changing my diet, I also engaged in various cleansing and detoxification strategies. The first one I accomplished was a candida cleanse. My nutritional therapist told me that I had candida all throughout my body. Indeed, candida is a widespread problem in developed countries due to processed foods and most people who consume the SAD (Standard American Diet) have it. Candida is a yeast overgrowth in the intestinal system that easily spreads throughout other body organ systems if unchecked. It can cause a host of problems including weight gain, cardiovascular disorders, headaches and migraines, blurry vision, constipation, diarrhea, cravings for sweets and alcohol, hyperactivity, itching, acne, menstrual problems, abdominal issues – just to name a few. The nutritional therapist also told me I would be on my way to having cancer or some other degenerative disease if I hadn’t been stopped in my tracks…and I was only 35 years old!
Because my appendix and gallbladder are gone, I also take bile salts and probiotics each day (besides eating a healthy diet). The gallbladder is responsible for storing bile (which is produced by the liver). Bile is necessary to process and break down fats. Although many doctors will tell patients they can survive just fine without it, the gallbladder’s function is essential. Without it, bile drips into the small intestine and causes diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, nausea, and can actually promote the development of cancer. The appendix is also necessary, contrary to popular medical opinion. Its job is to produce friendly bacteria in the body to keep the immune system functioning optimally. If your appendix is removed, your body’s ability to create this good flora is greatly diminished. If I had not learned about these two very important things and taken steps to overcome the handicap my body now has from their absence, I would be very much worse off than I am now. It is important to note that for years I had diarrhea and abdominal discomfort, the cause of which I could never unravel. Now that I eat well and take the bile salts, hyrdochloric acid, and probiotics, I no longer have diarrhea and pain (and my bowel activity is very regular and normal). I also take digestive enzymes if I eat something with wheat in it (most of the wheat I eat is sprouted and/or soaked), wine, or some type of dessert (which is rare). If you are healthy and maintain a healthy diet, you should not have to take much of these supplements – I take them because of my organ deficits.
Now I feel like I can live life to a much greater potential. I have energy and enthusiasm, and I also enjoy exercise – on my own terms, of course…I’m not a gym-goer or a person who takes classes – and I don’t have a competitive bone in my body. But when I go hiking or biking or anything else that is strenuous, I feel great. It used to be that I’d feel ill and didn’t want to continue. My new found lifestyle (with God’s help) has thankfully given that back to me.
Many people suffer from these symptoms, and certainly some of these things are caused by other issues…but I think it’s pretty clear numerous diseases and ailments are caused from eating poorly and being malnourished. We are all doing our bodies an incredible disservice when we put processed, chemically-laden foods into our regular diets. Now that I know this, I’ve made it my objective to inform and educate people because I want to help others possibly avoid what I experienced. You really can have amazing, fantastic health through whole, traditional foods with good saturated fats and proteins that come from animal products.
Now that you’ve read this, here is your task:
- Eliminate processed foods from your diets – including packaged, manufactured foods in packages, jars, cans, boxes, etc.
- Eliminate excessive alcohol intake and tobacco or drug use. Consider unpasteurized beer and wine. Read this informative article about Alcohol and the Sugar Connection.
- Eat more whole, traditional foods containing fats and protein such as: grass-fed meats (such as beef, lamb, pork, and game meats) from organic sources, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, raw dairy products from healthy, grass-fed, organic sources, fermented foods from whole foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut – avoid store bought unless you know the source is natural, organic, and fermented), raw nuts and seeds, healthy fats like extra virgin coconut oil & olive oil, palm oil, flax oil, lard & tallow (both from healthy, grass-fed sources). Eating healthy fats is absolutely essential because the body stores these fats and you do not want fats with toxins stored in your cells.
- Eat organically-produced fruits and vegetables.
- Obtain regular moderate exercise that you enjoy
- Get adequate rest; go to bed before 10:30 p.m. most nights
- Engage in regular stress-reduction activities that you enjoy – yoga, meditation, prayer, massage, pilates, or martial arts are good choices
For more information on good dietary fats, read The Importance of Dietary Fats.