From being in huge amounts of pain with ankylosing spondylitis (an autoimmune disease) to discovering the power of food and lifestyle choices to rebalance my body and address the root cause behind my disease.
For as long I can remember, I have loved all things adventure. Lacrosse, netball, surfing, skiing, cycling, kitesurfing and most recently half ironmans– you name it, I want to try it.
But aged 18 when I had just started university and was dreaming of playing in a Lacrosse World Cup, I lost the ability to do whatever I chose in life. From nowhere during an England lacrosse training camp, I was crippled by lower back pain. I was left unable to run, twist and turn – everything essential for Lacrosse. I resorted to standing on the sideline.
Over a matter of months I realised that this pain was not a one-off as unpredictable lower back pain started to take over many aspects of my life. Some days I struggled to walk or put on a pair of trousers. I resorted to sleeping on the floor.
An autoimmune disease and band aid approach
I am not one for giving up and I did everything I could to stop this ever present injury getting in my way whilst looking for an explanation. Eighteen months later I was finally diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis - an autoimmune disease which causes inflammation, and in some cases fusion, of the spine.
This was 2006, autoimmune diseases were not commonly seen, and what it all meant beyond a chronic condition was less than clear. I was given immune suppressing and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the pain but due to side effects I was now in and out of the doctors having regular blood tests to check my body was coping.
Despite six years of trying, these drugs didn’t give me the relief. The next step was more drugs with even harsher side effects.
Move over drugs, hello food
Around the same time, a physio admitted she had run out of ideas and I was introduced to an osteopath. The first appointment changed my life! Initially I was confused because my back was not even examined. He questioned me about my lifestyle, diet and digestive system and asked how important it was to get better. The extent of how my back affected my life hit me.
He appreciated the far reaching effects of the digestive system and thought that my back inflammation and pain was being caused by food. More specifically I had a condition called “leaky gut” which could have led to the demise of my immune system and the triggering of my autoimmune disease in the first place.
To get to the bottom of the inflammation – my osteopath suggested giving up gluten whilst drinking lots of gut healing bone broth. Oh – and those drugs which I had taken for 6 years were just a band aid and had been doing nothing to address the underlying cause of my back pain.
The start of the rest of my life
This was 2012, before gluten-free or bone broth were a ‘thing’, so changing my diet was a challenge. Once I did I realised the ‘gut – back – inflammation’ link was definitely real.
My osteopath knew instantly if I had eaten something that disagreed with me as my face and my tummy looked puffy. I started to tune in to the adverse effects that some foods were having - I had probably been having these reactions all along but I had never realised.
Over time, my back pain calmed down and life became less of a roller-coaster and I was able to more reliably pursue adventures without the fear of them breaking me in the long run. l had unexpected benefits too, like no longer falling asleep in the afternoon, and my skin improved beyond belief.
‘Life is about the journey, not just the destination’
Two years ago I realised that while I was doing everything I could with food, my lifestyle was holding me back. I have always tried to fit as much as possible into life and combined with other traits like perfectionism that led to low self-esteem meant I was constantly stressed and anxious which wore my body down over time.
When a naturopath pointed this out, I have focused on calming down, getting more sleep and reframing my thoughts to be more positive. The experience has been amazing. I now don’t get as stressed out by the most ridiculous things, I gained the courage to do what I want and I have remembered what I really love after forgetting for a long time.
Rediscovering the real me
Since the start, I have been blown away by the power of food and lifestyle choices– not only can they cause inflammation but they also have an amazing healing effect. It has definitely been a journey - health conditions take a long time to arrive and even longer to reverse.
The experience has inspired me and made me passionate about food and the connection between the gut and the functioning of the body. Now I want to spread the message far and wide so others can benefit from everything I’ve had to learn the hard way.
BECOMING A NUTRITIONAL THERAPY PRACTITIONER
So here I am – a qualified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (with the Nutritional Therapy Association) with my own Nutritional Therapy Practice. It is so exciting to be out in the world helping others to live their dream life and to stop their body getting in the way.
Having an autoimmune disease could have been devastating but using a whole food holistic approach and identifying the underlying cause of my disease has not only turned my health around but also enabled me to rediscover what I am really passionate about.
I cannot wait for what's next!