In February, we are surrounded by images of passion and thoughts of love – bright red hearts, cupid balloons and chocolate roses are practically overflowing out of every aisle at the grocery store. But the truth is, passion can come in many forms, and in this month’s special edition of the Hatch Health and Happiness newsletter, we are talking about the power of pursuing your passion. In sticking with this theme, I’ve decided to walk you into a more personal and vulnerable chapter of my world that I have rarely spoken about, and how it fueled my personal passion for helping others to heal.
In 2011, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis (among many other things). I was handed a single-sided, over-photocopied piece of paper telling me to eat exclusively chicken broth, Ensure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, and mashed potatoes. That’s it. I remember sitting in the car after the appointment and just staring at this piece of paper that had come from a very reputable doctor whom I respect very much. This is going to be my life? Forever?
It’s hard to believe now, but I did what so many do, and what I am guessing many of my readers can relate to – as ridiculous as it seemed, I followed the doctor’s orders. When you are so sick and desperate to get better, you’ll do or try nearly anything – even when it seems preposterous – because maybe, just maybe, it will work.
So I did. I followed that “diet” with the addition of egg whites and white bread, and shocker, lost 32 pounds in 6 months and was diagnosed as “failure to thrive.” Mere months after receiving that piece of paper, I was lying in a hospital bed following complications from feeding tube surgery. I was blue, freezing, and the new owner of a frontal tail at age 27.
I began the painstaking process of trying to gain weight while eating next to nothing and pumping my body full of cans of grossly processed formula that it rejected with alarming speed. I was supposed to try and eat more, but everything made me sick and nothing at all felt “safe.” Food became a huge source of fear – a stress that only further slowed down my very delayed stomach. I was putting on my pants with safety pins to try to keep them from falling down and was so weak and tired that it was hard to walk up the stairs.
And yet, despite it all, I vividly remember the first time it happened. I was walking down the hall of my school and a parent of a former student greeted me and exclaimed, “WOW! You look fabulous! You should have done this years ago!”
Obviously, she had no idea why I had lost the weight.
Obviously, she NEVER meant to hurt me.
But I was floored. My coworker and I glanced at each other with uneasy smiles. And the words stuck.
Was this purple-hued, frontal-tailed body what makes me look “fabulous?”
I knew that I was dangerously underweight. I knew that I was never overweight in the first place. I now knew that “failure to thrive” wasn’t just reserved for babies. But I’m also human. And I had to work hard to swallow that comment down and keep pumping myself with formula, and forcing down food, day in and day out.
And it happened again. And again. And again.
One person went so far as to say that she wished she had gastroparesis so she could lose the weight, too.
I crawled my way back to a healthy weight with daily weigh-ins, food recording, and more feeding tube complications than I can begin to describe (hello exploding feeding tube in the Minnesota airport bathroom…), all the while fighting the demons of the complete loss of my self-confidence and body image. All the while trying to convince myself that food was not “bad” – both for my mind and my body. All the while relearning how and what to eat to maintain my health.
Years later, when I met with a new doctor who was thoroughly flabbergasted by my case, she proclaimed “Well, I guess my best recommendation is to lose 20–30 pounds, so when your muscles continue to weaken you have less to carry around.”
Knowing my full medical history, she asked me to lose all of the weight I had worked so hard to gain. And just like that, I was back in the trenches fighting the demons that may always be a part of my story.
I, like many people with allergies, autoimmune disease, and digestive disorders, follow a very regimented diet. In a nutshell, I am a gluten / dairy / soy / legume / mostly grain-free low-residue pescatarian (say THAT five times fast). I follow this plan because it is the lifestyle that I have learned through YEARS of trial and error works best for my body. It isn’t easy to go out to eat and I may never have the luxury of picking up a bite when I’m too tired to cook. I may always be the girl with a lunchbox at bridal showers and birthday parties. I still challenge myself to re-try things every once in a while, to both test the waters and to remind myself that food is meant for nourishment, not harm, and that no matter how sick it makes me feel, that feeling will fade eventually – it’s not forever. I don’t try things because I have to, I try things because I GET to – the choice to heal on my own terms has been, and always will be, mine and mine alone.
My clients will tell you that I adamantly refuse to label something as “good” or “bad” (much to their disappointment). If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “Is this food good or bad?” I’d be a very wealthy woman. Categorizing something that has the potential to nourish our bodies and minds as good or bad is detrimental to our psyche, and it fills us with hugely unnecessary guilt and shame. Even in the case of an allergy or Celiac disease, the offending food isn’t good or bad – it’s just not right for you. What makes one client feel full of light and energy can make another one feel sluggish and terrible – diet and lifestyle are hugely bio-individual.
This is why I do what I do. This is why I’m passionate that my clients learn that food is a good and wonderful thing that we NEED to nourish our bodies and our minds. This is why I’m passionate in teaching my clients with alternative diets about new and exciting ways to not just eat, but to ENJOY food again. I have to remind myself every day that food is not something to fight. I have to remind myself every day that the weight I worked SO hard to put on is not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather a sign of strength. When people no longer compliment me on how I look, I have to remember that it’s because I look healthy – normal even. Like all chronic conditions, my gastroparesis symptoms are infinitely less severe when I do everything I can to manage my stress – and that means facing my demons head-on every day. I cannot run and hide if I want to live a life where I thrive – and help others to do the same. I am passionate, because I have walked this road every step of the way myself, and seen firsthand the damage that an extremely restricted diet can cause. I will walk that road the rest of my life and hope to always passionately help others walk their own road.
See you on the trail, friends.