The story I’m about to share is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever done.
Fear tends to accompany vulnerability, especially when we’re putting our WHOLE selves out there into the world.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of judgment.
Fear of being “too much.”
But I have to share this.
Because what I’ve experienced over the past five years has been a gift.
It has happened for me, not to me.
It’s my responsibility to be open enough to find meaning in my journey and to use it for good.
So, with that, here’s the story I’ve never told until now.
I swore it would never happen again.
That I would never gain back the weight. That I’d never wear “those” clothes again.
I remember five years ago when I started proudly packing up all of my old clothes that no longer fit. I’d lost so much weight that I had gradually amassed a brand new wardrobe.
I hadn’t thought it was possible to get back to the weight I was in high school, but I had. The last time my body was this size, I was playing competitive soccer. I couldn’t believe it. I thought my body was destined to be the size it had become, but I had proven myself wrong and surprised myself.
In addition to losing weight, I had uncovered the root causes of other nagging body issues like congestion, allergies, acid reflux, and other digestive discomfort and had adjusted my diet to get rid of the triggers.
My body was more adaptable than I’d ever thought possible.
I felt good – better than ever. I was happy and for the first time in years, I loved going shopping to try on clothes. Nothing was tight. I had dropped a size or two.
I was proud of what I’d accomplished.
And I was convinced it was where my body was meant to be.
For years, I didn’t even think about my weight. I naturally maintained my weight and even lost a few more pounds, without much effort. In one of my most read blog posts ever about how I lost 20 pounds and kept it off, I wrote about what I did to lose the weight.
I had never gotten attention for my body before.
I welcomed the praise.
The “You look great/so good/amazing!” and “Have you lost weight??” comments fed my ego and my sense of worthiness. I had been employed as a Corporate Wellness Specialist for years, but now I looked the part.
I started to tell my story of how I had lost weight and gotten off of acid reflux medication after a decade of taking it every day.
My story became my identity – “Wellness Consultant Drops 20 Pounds and a Decade of Taking Medication.”
But, as the body tends to do, mine started to change.
During the winter and spring of 2013, I hit my lowest weight. I had completed coursework about the benefits of a plant-based diet, which I had adopted years earlier when the weight loss began. What I learned caused me to stop eating animal products. I had cut out dairy a few years prior, as I found out it was one of my trigger foods, but now I wasn’t eating meat, poultry or even eggs.
My body started whispering to me, sending subtle signals that something wasn’t quite right.
I had lost weight everywhere, including my chest.
I looked more like a 14-year-old girl than a 28-year-old woman.
My libido was MIA.
My menstrual cycle was irregular.
Then, in August 2013, my body ceased whispering and started shouting.
“That time of the month” stopped coming.
For 7 months.
Seven long months.
And, no, I wasn’t pregnant.
Bill and I knew we wanted to have kids one day, but if that system wasn’t working, I wasn’t sure how it would be possible.
I switched OB/Gyns. I met with a natural fertility specialist.
I started seeing Dr. Mary Jo Fishburn, an acupuncturist and integrative medicine doctor. She had me complete a series of tests called Genova NutrEval to help us arrive at some answers about what wasn’t working in my body.
The tests would give us key information about five core nutrient areas: antioxidants, B vitamins, digestive support, essential fatty acids, and minerals.
The results came back.
I was devastated.
They were coded stoplight-style – red, yellow, green – and I was “in the red” on over a dozen key nutrients.
My body wasn’t breaking down and absorbing proteins.
We started looking at the food sources of each of those nutrients.
“But I’m eating most of those,” I responded. I ate plenty of spinach, kale, almonds, quinoa, and other nutrient-rich foods.
I was so confused.
What was happening inside my body?
I had just about stopped eating animal products, a major source of B vitamins and amino acids for most people, and the decade of acid blockers had messed with my body’s ability to properly use vitamin B12.
Years of taking antibiotics and acid blockers and consuming foods that were compromising my immune system had interfered with my body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients from my food.
I had become malnourished.
It sounded like such a harsh word, but my test results supported it.
“You might need to gain some weight,” she suggested.
I had never been told by anyone that I was underweight. I never thought of myself as being “too thin.”
But I was. I appeared to be doing everything right from the outside, but my body wasn’t okay on the inside.
But what would happen if I gained weight?
What would people think??
I had lost weight, kept it off, and was telling my story everywhere I went.
It had become part of my identity.
If I gained weight, people would notice.
Would they question my credibility to speak and teach about what to eat?
Would I lose their trust in me and my position as an “expert”?
Then, the internal name-calling began:
The fears began to overwhelm me, but I knew I had to keep moving forward.
I couldn’t keep ignoring my body’s signals.
My doctor referred me to a nutritionist, Kasia Kines, who I started seeing in January 2014.
She put me on therapeutic doses of high quality supplements to begin replenishing and rebuilding my body’s stores of nutrients.
I slowly began reintroducing animal products into my diet. I made sure they were high quality – grass-fed, organic, pastured, etc. It started as a once a week thing and then built up.
Because of what I’d done to my body, my stomach acid production was deficient – something that is common among people who have acid reflux – but is misdiagnosed as excess acid. I was put on a hydrochloric acid supplement to take with protein-containing meals.
My body began responding.
My appetite returned.
I didn’t realize it, but for years, I hadn’t felt true hunger. I had been taking some form of medicine for acid reflux since I was 19 and had essentially shut down my stomach acid production. With the acid reintroduced to my stomach, my body could properly break down proteins into building blocks for the first time in years.
The ultimate gift came a few short weeks after starting with Kasia.
In January 2014, after waking up early one morning to use the restroom, I ran into our bedroom and shouted to Bill, “I’m a WOMAN again!!”
I couldn’t believe it.
I had hope.
My body was starting to cooperate, but I was still very irregular.
I brought my concerns back to my nutritionist.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to have kids,” I told her, as a tear rolled down my cheek.
What she said next hit the deepest part of my being. She told me to repeat this phrase to myself whenever I was feeling discouraged:
Oh, how I needed to hear that.
And, oh, how it broke me.
She had no idea how profound and inspiring those words would be for me for years to come.
As my body started absorbing nutrients and with the guidance of my doctor and nutritionist, I started to gain weight. I opened myself up to the possibility that doing so could help me reach my ultimate goal.
My cycle finally regulated itself in October 2014 and has been on track on a monthly basis ever since.
But with it has come weight, something I’ve emotionally struggled with over the past year. I now wrestle with the fear that losing too much weight will send me back to the female issues I’ve recently overcome.
I’ve been making a conscious effort to shift my mindset about what has happened and what it means. Insights from books by Brene Brown, Geneen Roth, Marc David, and Elizabeth Gilbert have helped and have inspired me to face my body fears.
Instead of judging myself and feeling self-conscious or crying in the mirror when I don’t fit into an outfit I wore a year ago (been there, done that), I’m trying to focus on recognizing and appreciating everything my body does for me.
It wakes up each morning, so I can take on a new day.
My heart beats and my lungs bring oxygen every second.
My hair and nails are strong.
My cycle is back on track.
My skin has improved.
My reflux is still gone.
I have energy all day long.
I’ve had the best year ever in my career.
My nutrient levels are back in healthy ranges.
In the midst of pushing myself physically, mentally and emotionally, my immune system kicks on to fight the bad guys trying to slow me down.
I can’t remember the last time I was sick.
I’m more in tune with my body and what it’s trying to tell me than ever before.
I’m doing my best to love this one precious, beautiful body I’ve been given.
Even when it confuses me.
Even when it frustrates me.
Even when I catch a glimpse of a picture of my once malnourished body in a dress that no longer fits.
In those moments, I remind myself of my nutritionist’s words of wisdom:
“What a journey you have had!
We are human. We do have to honor our bodies.
They are not at fault.
Other things are.
Just be gentle and forgiving.
It is doing its best for you!
It always has.”