I’ve tried a lot of different things on my journey to health, most of which I know now weren’t healthy. In high school I was obsessed with calories. I ate non fat yogurt every day for breakfast (chock full of aspartame and high fructose corn syrup), peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat sandwich thins for lunch, and lean cuisines for dinner. And then, because I was so unsatisfied by the food I was eating, I would go to town on some break-and-brake cookie dough and/or funfetti cake.
It was also around this time that I started having some not so fun digestive issues. I was diagnosed with acid reflux disease and a hiatal hernia when I was 13 and had surgery to fix it, but this was different. I would go days, sometimes a week or two without pooping, I was constantly bloated (to the point of looking pregnant) and crampy, and my skin was awful. I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism and put on medication. Of course I didn’t make the connection between the food I was eating and my health. Not yet anyway.
These issues continued through college and being in a constant state of bloat with broken out skin, I had a hard time feeling comfortable in my own skin. I was very self conscious, thinking I was fat and ugly and comparing myself to all the skinny sorority girls with their perfect hair and perfect skin. Not only was I doing myself a disservice with the food I was eating, but I was also impeding my health with damaging self hatred.
In 2011 I discovered food blogs and I became obsessed. It was through this obsession that I discovered gluten free eating. I cut out gluten (and most dairy) from my diet and I started feeling a lot better. For the first time I made a decision regarding my diet that was actually a step in the right direction. However, I was still eating processed garbage, the only difference was that the garbage had the fancy gluten free label on it.
Since I was still having digestive issues and hormonal imbalances, I decided to go vegetarian about a year later, shortly after getting married in 2012, thinking this would be good for my health. In fact, besides honey I was basically vegan. I had read all the “research” connecting saturated fat and heart disease and animal protein and cancer and I believed that by consuming only plant products I would solve all my health woes and be happy and vibrant. Although I felt pretty good at first (probably due to a large increase in my intake of vegetables) I soon started to feel even worse than when I started. The cramping became a daily thing and I was never anywhere close to regular. My skin looked like the skin of a pubescent teenager, and I was as moody and unhappy as one too. Clearly, I was not the epitome of health all the “research” claimed I should be.
Fast forward to September of 2013… I was getting a little desperate because of how poorly I was feeling so I started looking into other ways of eating. My meat-loving husband mentioned the paleo diet, probably because he was hoping I’d start eating meat again. I began reading about this way of eating and pretty much every claim went against what I thought I knew about nutrition. Despite this fact, this diet just made sense to me.
Even still, I had a hard time giving up my non-meat-eating ways, and it wasn’t until a paleo friend of mine gave me a stern talking to that I finally gave in and ate some bacon. And boy was it GLORIOUS! I slowly started incorporating animal protein and good healthy fats and stopped eating the grains and legumes that I subsisted on for over a year. The bloating and cramping I had been dealing with on a daily basis subsided. It didn’t go away completely right away, but I noticed a huge improvement. Not only that but I had more energy than I had ever had before. I kept reading more and more, completely geeking out on anything and everything paleo nutrition because it had done more for me and my health than any doctor or specialist ever had.
I started to feel a thousand times better than I did when I ate that first piece of bacon. However, I did a lot of damage to my body during my low fat, calorie counting days. In May of 2014 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the thyroid) that was causing weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, and exacerbating my constipation issues. This diagnosis caused another setback in my journey to health. The levothyroxine (generic Synthroid) I had been on for years was no longer sufficient for me to feel good. I was always tired no matter how much I slept, I could barely exercise at all without getting completely wiped out, my memory went to hell, and I was slowly but steadily gaining weight without making any changes to my diet or exercise routine.
I decided to try the Autoimmune Protocol, which is therapeutic type of diet aimed at alleviating autoimmune diseases that eliminates foods that can cause damage to the gut lining and/or incite an immune response; things like nightshades, nuts and seeds, dairy, grains, and eggs. I followed the autoimmune protocol religiously for about three months in the fall of 2014 and started to notice some positive changes. I started eating non AIP foods around Christmas time, but continued to feel better until the following spring. The combination of midterms for my Nutritional Therapy program, traveling, and a job change threw me into a bad flare of my Hashimoto’s. I got a really bad cold and was so exhausted I could hardly move. I continued to push myself though and all my old symptoms came right back; the fatigue, the consistent weight gain, the horrible constipation. That summer I was the heaviest I had ever been. It was not a good time for me.
I started making some positive changes at that point. I prioritized sleep over pretty much anything else, took it a little easier on the exercise (mostly walking and some yoga), and I continued to consume a very healthy, nutrient dense diet. I also adopted a more accepting mindset. The weight started coming off a bit, slowly but surely, the digestive issues started to lessen a bit, and I stopped throwing myself into regular flares of my Hashimoto’s.
Also during this time, I was working with my doctor to more closely monitor my thyroid medication. My dose of levothyroxine was upped a few times, and in the fall of 2016 my doctor switched me from to Armour and I immediately noticed positive changes – more energy, better digestion, and the weight started falling off without making any other changes.
By January of 2017 I was down 30 pounds from my heaviest point. We also found out we were pregnant after only a few months of trying. I thought “this is it, I’m healed and everything will be wonderful from now on.” So when that pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 14 weeks I was devastated. I’d done everything “right” – taken the prenatal vitamins for months prior to trying, gotten my thyroid hormone levels in a healthy range, eaten the right foods, avoided the wrong ones, etc. But even the most perfect diet can’t protect you from miscarriage.
We tried again and conceived a couple months later. When that pregnancy also ended in miscarriage, I knew it was time to make some changes. I started working with a midwife off post and a functional medicine practitioner. They switched my thyroid medication to Tirosint (basically a hypoallergenic version of Synthroid) and, while my active thyroid hormone levels were in range on Armour, this medication brought all my levels into a more ideal balance. There is a belief among some health care providers that Armour is not safe for pregnancy. Based on the research I’ve done, and stories I’ve read of women having successful pregnancies while on Armour, I’m not convinced this is true. So this is not why we changed my medication, but after two losses we figured trying something different couldn’t hurt.
I also found out during all of this that I have a mutation in the MTHFR gene (heterozygous for the C677T variant). My functional medicine doctor put me on several new supplements to help me methylate more effectively, as well as things to help with the inflammation associated with autoimmune disease, in addition to prenatal vitamins and other basic supplements for optimal health.
Despite all of this, and the fact that I’ve felt healthier than I can ever remember – I’ve easily maintained a very healthy (for me) weight, I have way more energy, my skin is clearer, I poop every single day (something that NEVER used to happen) – we had a third miscarriage in April 2018 after six months of trying to conceive.
In the medical field, recurrent pregnancy loss is typically defined as having three or more consecutive pregnancy losses. This is changing thankfully. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine has recently redefined recurrent pregnancy loss as two or more miscarriages, and some doctors will start treating women for recurrent pregnancy loss after two miscarriages. Unfortunately, after our second loss we were told our insurance wouldn’t cover testing until after we had a third loss.
After our third miscarriage, I started seeing the OB that works with the birth center where I was being seen for my prenatal care. She ran all the typical testing that’s done for recurrent pregnancy loss – a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) to check for anatomic issues, genetic testing for balanced translocation, and the blood work for Antiphospholipid Syndrome. Everything came back normal.
Despite not having any answers, we felt peace about trying again. My OB had me on baby aspirin and I would start progesterone suppositories once I got pregnant again in the hopes that these changes would help me maintain a pregnancy. Unfortunately, they didn’t and we had our fourth miscarriage in October 2018.