“I feel like garbage,” I told my gynecologist, barely holding back tears.
It was March 2017, and I was suffering from multiple health issues. At only 35, I felt like my body was suddenly betraying me. She looked at me with a pitying gaze and went to her office to get a few business cards for specialists, including a gastroenterologist.
“I think you might have IBS,” she said. I took the cards and dragged myself home.
So began a few months of seeing specialists and feeling like I wasn’t getting very far. Then I came across a book called “WomanCode” by Alisha Vitti, a holistic health counselor and founder of FLO Living. It may be the best $10 I’ve ever spent, and I’ll tell you why.
What Is Happening To My Body?
Let’s rewind for just a second. Back to those myriad health issues that were plaguing me. I felt fatigued and foggy, constantly. My periods were off and my PMS was scaring me (and my family). A cyst on my ovary burst. I experienced recurring UTIs, urinary urgency, bloating and constipation. My skin was a mess. Worst of all, I experienced sharp pain on my right side under my ribs and in my back after eating.
In truth, I had also became depressed and vitamin D-deficient over the winter months, and that didn’t help matters. My exercise routine was sporadic, and I wasn’t eating great. I was about 10 pounds overweight, and I couldn’t seem to do anything about it.
Yet my blood work all looked fine. I was a little overweight, but not in the danger zone. A pelvic ultrasound turned up nothing super concerning. I started taking a vitamin D supplement but still didn’t feel better. Overall, I was getting a collective shrug from my family doctor and gynecologist.
Then the gastroenterologist ordered an abdominal scan.
Liver Scare, Gallbladder Issue
In June 2017, I had an abdominal scan that revealed a dark spot on my liver and biliary sludge in my gallbladder.
After a CT of my abdomen and a lot of anxiety on my part, it was determined that I had a benign hemangioma (basically a tangle of blood vessels) on my liver. So that wasn’t the problem.
The sludge was the likely source of my abdominal pain. As I learned, a number of things—from pregnancy to weight loss—can cause gallbladder sludge. If you’re asymptomatic, there’s usually nothing to worry about, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me. The doctor told me it wasn’t possible to clear the sludge, it would only get worse, and I should talk to a surgeon about getting my gallbladder removed.
While all of this was going on, I made the decision to take greater charge of my own health. I came across a recommendation for the book “WomanCode” based on my laundry list of ailments. By focusing on hormone balance and health, Vitti seeks to help women get more in tune with their bodies’ natural rhythms, support their endocrine system, minimize toxins and tap into feminine energy.
I’m a natural skeptic, so I approached these ideas knowing they weren’t going to cure everything. There’s big business around convincing women that there’s always something wrong with them, so I had that in mind, too. At the same time, I didn’t really want to end up taking a bunch of pills that only masked my symptoms for the rest of my life.
The advice in the book really inspired and surprised me. More than anything, it spoke to the issues I was having and gave me clear, logical tools to take charge of my diet and health. It also woke me up to how I was actually working against myself.
You see, I’ve been a vegetarian since the age of 15 (I eat fish occasionally). I always considered myself a healthy eater. The problem was, there wasn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to what I was eating. I’m also terrible at deciding what I want to eat (ask my poor husband), which leads to eating what sounds good in the moment, skipping meals, snacking and so on. This also resulted in some bad choices with sweets, carbs, cheese and heavy or fried foods.
Through “WomanCode” I learned how to choose my foods more wisely throughout the day to support my hormones and my body.
It All Comes Back To Hormones
Before reading this book I was not fully in tune with the huge role hormones play in the overall functioning of our bodies. Not just estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, but a whole chorus of hormones that help us reproduce, sleep, deal with stress and distribute nutrients. Our endocrine system directs that chorus by producing hormones in response to the changing environment within our bodies. Clearly, some of my hormones and my endocrine system were not using the same sheet music—and my lifestyle choices weren’t helping anything.
What I Changed
Overall, the book empowered me to understand and listen to my body in ways that I didn’t before. One of the most useful pieces for me was learning to support my cycle through the foods I chose to eat. Vitti includes a helpful chart that breaks down the food groups for each phase of a woman’s cycle (follicular, ovulatory, luteal and menstrual). At first, it felt restrictive, but as time has gone on I realize that I actually do crave and feel better eating certain foods during different times of the month.
Diet, Exercise and Lifestyle
- Diet: Incorporating plants, protein and fiber into every meal. I eat little to no fried food and very little to no cheese. I try to stick to only whole grains, and I don’t drink much caffeine. Planning my meals and always having healthy options on hand keeps my blood sugar from yo-yoing and crashing my energy levels.
- Exercise: Yoga at least three to four times a week even if it’s just 30 minutes at home. I do different styles to make sure I’m getting cardio and stretching/relaxation.
- Lifestyle: Eating and exercising to support where I am with my cycle as much as possible. Taking Epsom salt baths to relax and detox my skin. In general, just putting a focus on what I know will help me feel good during different phases in a month.
- Supplements: Vitti also provides recommendations for supplements, but cautions depending on them all the time. Right now, I take a daily probiotic and fiber combo, vitamin B complex, vitamin B, and milk thistle or a digestive enzyme supplement with some meals. This has really helped keep bloating, constipation and indigestion at bay.
Beyond diet and exercise changes, I also took a look at my products. As Vitti encourages in her book, I slowly but surely started to replace things I used all the time with healthier alternatives that were less likely to influence my hormones.
- I swapped my plastic leftover containers for glass.
- Switched from plastic reusable water bottles to stainless steel and glass.
- I reviewed my beauty products, body wash, hair care, etc. and discovered the face cream I used every day (from a supposedly “natural” brand) had all kinds of endocrine disruptors in it. If you’re interested in doing the same, the EWR (Environmental Working Group) website is a great resource for checking out the safety of personal/beauty care products. They rate them on a hazard scale from 1 to 10 and provide data available on ingredients.
Where I’m At Now
When I finally met with the surgeon to discuss removing my gallbladder I wasn’t having abdominal pain all the time anymore. I described what I was feeling to him, and he agreed that it sounded like my gallbladder. He ordered another ultrasound and a HIDA scan to see what was going on. This time around, the sludge was gone, and my gallbladder and liver were functioning just fine. I did not need to have my gallbladder removed after all!
Today, the pain in my right side after eating is like a distant memory. And as for those pesky 10 pounds? At this point, I’ve lost 13 and kept them off. My skin and my period symptoms have improved, and mentally I feel so much more with it. I get emotional thinking about just how much doing simple things wore me out last year. Now, I have my energy back. I have my life back.
As expected, it is hard to stick with big diet and lifestyle changes perfectly for the long haul. But I can tell when I’m getting out of balance now, and I know how to pull myself back from the brink.
Overall, my doctors have been encouraging and supportive, if not a little surprised. It was clear they’re not used to people making big lifestyle changes and taking their health into their own hands.
Most importantly, in my journey from feeling like garbage to feeling good, I learned the necessity of being one’s own health advocate, making wellness a priority and finding doctors who will really listen.
Have you made major diet or lifestyle changes that improved your health? What worked? What didn’t?