Paving Your OWN Way to Optimal Health - Is Functional Medicine the Future of Healthcare?

Left photo is now - gearing up for my 51st birthday, middle photo was from two years ago and the photo on the right is a photo my dear friend Laura Turbow took of me around my 50th birthday last year. I was around 20 pounds heavier in those previous photos although I have to say, I was hiding it well!

I haven't worn the pants in the newest photo above since my husband and I got married almost ten years ago. Funny thing is this blog post isn't about weight loss. Weight loss is just a happy bi-product of my ever-evolving and continuing journey to optimal health. I'm not only happy with the way I'm looking, but I'm feeling pretty great too and as I quickly approach my 51st birthday and listen to my husband's exclamations of how sexy I am. well - that's just the best!

My Health Journey with Chris Kresser and Functional Medicine

If you've been to any of The Healing Farm retreats or have read any of my early blog posts, you know that I worked with Functional Medicine practitioner Chris Kresser on the first leg of my healing journey. I agree with Chris that functional medicine could be (and should be) the future of healthcare (he has a new book coming out called "Unconventional Medicine"). This is why I'm hosting retreats based on the premise of healing from the inside out - finding what's at the core of your chronic health issues and addressing those problems in a quest for long-term healing and preventative care. It's also why I want to build the Healing Farm property. Except for some of the big stuff, like necessary surgeries (I had a ruptured appendix many years ago and would have died without surgery), cancer treatments, trauma and a whole host of other medical issues Western medicine can address, much of what Western medicine seems to do for chronic conditions and auto-immune disease is about putting a bandaid on the problem and not getting to the core issue.

If it weren't for the initial work I did with Chris, I would not be where I am today physically and emotionally or able to build The Healing Farm business as I'm currently doing. It's not that I went into his office with major issues, but it was a collection of long-term issues that seemed to be adding up and getting worse:

Add the words chronic to any of the conditions below and that's what I experienced:

  • Sinus headaches so severe they bordered on migraines
  • Massive indigestion that would sometimes keep my up all night wondering if I was having a heart attack
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Increased mood swings - especially during PMS
  • Low libido
  • Constipation
  • weight problems
  • When I added chronic back pain to the list and opted out of surgery for that, I went to see Chris

When I worked with Chris, we found a parasite and some definciencies and indicators of inflammation. He put me on some herbal remedies and vitamins and an elimination diet and within six weeks most of my symptoms were alleviated. I was so inspired by natural healing and functional medicine that it set me on my current journey today. I had the energy and brain power to start taking business classes and started coming up with the concept of The Healing Farm. I would NEVER be where I am today if it weren't for the work I did with Chris Kresser. I would have continued to go around thinking it was just my darned bad luck that my body was so finicky.

Life-long Health Changes Can Take a Long Time and There May Be Setbacks

Fast forward a few years and my weight was creeping up again, restless legs were coming back, I was popping stomach pills and sinus pills again and wondering what the heck I was doing wrong. I thought I was eating a low sugar, low carb diet and I was almost 100% dairy and gluten free. I thought maybe it was just my aging body, but as I passed 50, I realized something was wrong again. I was listening to Magdalena Wszekaki's Cooking for Balance program since I was doing a retreat on menopause and women's health and started suspecting I may have a candida overgrowth or SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth). At this point in my business start-up I'm short on funds for just about everything so couldn't go to see Chris, but started doing some of the protocols in Magdalena's program including going on a vitamin and herb regimen recommended by her functional health practitioner and started taking Mega Spore probiotic. I've lost almost 20 pounds (I lost ten pounds on Keto) and am feeling great again. Now, I have to admit, I've been on a NO CARB, NO SUGAR, NO ALCOHOL plan for over eight weeks and had done the keto-type regimen right before I started the program and was now comfortable with eating fats and definitely not craving sugar or alcohol. This made it easier.

What I needed to think about though was the fact that I had almost lost all the work I had done with Chris and I needed to really think about the reasons. When I really thought about it, I realized I was drinking a lot of white wine and completely ignoring the fact that white wine is hight in sugar. I was sneaking in sugary snacks and gluten here and there and had found my new favorite go to chips (all natural beet chips in coconut oil) were really high in carbs (which converts to sugar in your body and if I do have a candida overgrowth - candida feeds on sugar). I also had to look at the amount of snacking and portions I was eating. I'm an emotional eater. It's a vicious cycle when you're down because you're not feeling good and it makes you feel better to eat (or drink wine). Basically, I was fooling myself thinking I was doing such a great job and was really producing more an more inflammation in my body. I got myself back into that unhealthy state. The no carb, high(er) fat plan has been working for me. Once I hit my goals and feel like I'm at optimal health, I'm not planning on going without my dark chocolate or an occasional beet chip, gluten free pizza, of glass of (red) wine in the future, but once I reach my goal, I know now what my limits are and I'm pretty darned happy with a few tablespoons of coconut yogurt (no sugar added!) for a sweet snack after dinner and some yummy ginger tea in the afternoon in the meantime. 

Your Personal Paleo Code, or Whole 30 Code, or Ancestral Code, or Veggie Code, or Mediterranean Code...Find Out What Eating Plan is Best for YOU and YOUR Body.

"Your Personal Paleo Code" was the title of Chris Kresser's first book before it was changed to: "The Paleo Cure". What I liked about Chris' philosophy is that he stresses that's it's most important to find what works for you and YOUR body. Although he's more of an ancestral/paleo guy, he's not completely opposed to carbs and grains. He's all about finding what works best for your body through the elimination diet and getting to the bottom of other lurking issues through blood and stool testing and then finding the right path to true healing. My husband can eat just about anything and never gain weight. He feels great all the time and is rarely sick. His way of eating is more like a snake's. He can go for hours without thinking about eating and then eat a ton and feel fine. A dear friend feels best when she eats more of a mediterranean diet, another friend recently discovered she really likes fasting for 24 hours between meals and loves the way she feels, another friend is vegetarian but has celiac so balances her diet accordingly. She's incredibly healthy and active despite what some of us would see as deficient in some essential nutrients by not eating meat. The point is, it's all about you and your body and what makes you feel best.

But Functional Medicine is Expensive....

I was recently telling someone about The Healing Farm concept and she instantly said she's not a fan of functional medicine. I asked her why and she said it's because it's cost prohibitive to a lot of people. This is where perception needs to change both in our own minds and in our healthcare system. If I added up all of the costs of the MRI and cortizone shots for my back, the upper GI and Endoscopy for my GI issues, years of blood tests and all the medication I've taken since I was in my mid twenties, it would be WAY more than the treatment cost of working with Chris Kresser. What we pay in insurance and what some of us get in health benefits from work hides most of what Western medicine costs. If we were paying all those bills (which increasingly we ARE), it would shock us. I paid about $1,000.00 five years ago for my work with Chris and the benefits have been life-changing. If we can change our healthcare system to accept Functional medicine into the fold (I was recently told by a THF client that Sutter Health now has a functional medicine practitioner), then maybe we can TRULY change the way we heal ourselves and prevent chronic conditions. This is why the work Chris Kresser, other functional medicine practitioners, nutritionists and hopefully The Healing Farm does is so important. We need to change the future of healthcare so let's start now!

A Couple of Tips for Big Change: Physical and Great Life Changes

I’ve communicated a lot on this blog and in my newsletters about my own midlife crisis, why I have been inspired to facilitate two menopause retreats, and why I was inspired to put together the upcoming fall retreat focused on “The 3rd Act” with Patricia Cavanaugh and Ellie Klevins. I started my own midlife crisis in my mid-forties, when I was not only coming to the realization that having a child was never going to happen for me, but also years of chronic health conditions were adding up and really bringing me down. I was also discovering that I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing for my career anymore. Everything seemed to be coming at me at once and adding the heartbreak of aging parents just about put me over the top. Needless to say, the second half of my forties was challenging and I realized I was in a “midlife crisis”.

I’ve done a lot since that discovery. I’ve healed most of my chronic conditions through change of diet and exercise and because of that work was inspired to start The Healing Farm | Retreat business. Since my own healing journey started, I dreamt of an affordable wellness retreat property where I could pass along practical life-changes to prevent and/or alleviate chronic illness and conditions. The Healing Farm concept was born and the “midlife crisis” started turning into my midlife “renaissance” as I started calling it. I know I’m still in midlife crisis because this personal transformation has been anything but easy, but I’ve taught myself enough tools at this point to navigate without freaking out too much.

 When a dear friend told me about the book “Hidden Blessings” by Jett Psaris, PhD I went online almost immediately to buy it. I have to say that I’ve never been into “self help” books - until I went into midlife crisis. The book “Fail Fast, Fail Often” by John D. Krumboltz and Ryan Babineaux was the first book I read that truly inspired me to not be afraid of change. I’m a creature of habit and needed to be inspired by people who were telling me that change and failing is not the end of the world. In fact, it can be the catalyst for a truer and more meaningful existence. This simple midwestern girl was suddenly inspired to challenge herself, find greater meaning, and create a legacy. If my legacy wasn’t going to be a child, then damnit, I was inspired to try to create a legacy of helping others to heal.

That’s what “Hidden Blessings” is about. Moving through midlife crisis to find the hidden gem within. It definitely doesn’t sugar-coat the midlife process, in fact when I read that most midlife crises last 10-12 years my stomach did a little lurch. That means I may not even be halfway through mine. That’s pretty depressing. But the book gives tools to guide you through and Ms. Psaris talks about midlife crisis being more of a metamorphosis rather than a crisis. This I can relate to. She quotes George Elliot:

 “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

Ms Psaris says: “....[the guidance given] comes from my own midlife experience and that of others, draws on many traditions and schools of thought to help us respond fully to the transformative invitation of midlife. That invitation is to step away from taking life literally - and perhaps, superficially - to discover a deep and profound underlying existence. Midlife invites us to surrender the narrowly defined view of ourselves and others that prevails during the first half of life, so that we can become more complex and multi-dimensional beings capable of living the largest lives possible moving forward."

Truth be told, I haven’t yet read the entire book, but I’m very much looking forward to what the author suggests and also what the ladies of The 3rd Act will teach us about transitioning in midlife during The Healing Farm’s fall retreat at Mayacamas Ranch. I’ve been so inspired by this book that I’ve already recommended it to friends realizing that more and more as I open up about my own midlife crisis, my friends are wanting to share their challenges too. It really does help to know that you are NOT the only one.

Another thing I’ve been sharing a lot recently with friends is Magdalena Wszelaki’s  “Cooking for Balance” online workshop. As I hear more and more people talking about stress, fatigue, stomach issues, among a multitude of other things, I’m more and more inspired not only to get The Healing Farm wellness retreat property off the ground, but I’m also inspired to continue to share tips about how we can heal a lot of our chronic issues ourselves just through changing our diet. Sure, it wasn’t JUST diet that helped me to work through my long-term chronic conditions (read here about how I worked through mine), but I’ve learned it’s a really important start and Magdalena’s workshop is informative and practical, plus the workshop video/format makes it easy to follow. I watched the free intro video last fall and bought the program right away - it’s four parts with a primer and very important to watch EVERYTHING. I even watched the free intro video a second time to refresh my memory before I started the program.

Needing to understand what various foods and allergies do to our bodies from a nutritional and scientific perspective is important and Magdalena makes it easy to follow. The cooking part of it is also helpful with charts of do’s and dont’s for various conditions, recipes, food guides and how-to videos. It’s a little overwhelming at first, but if you are tired of being sick and tired, it is so worth it. Having all this information in one easy to follow format is great. It’s like one-stop-shopping for affordable and practical long-term healing (like The Healing Farm concept!). Way easier than researching it all on your own online AND cheaper (and quicker) than going through traditional western medicine and medications to manage your health issues.

One of the reasons I didn’t start the workshop for months is because I’m running two businesses. One of the important things I’ve learned in this midlife journey is re-organizing my time and priorities which is how I found the time to take the workshop. I was finding that I was obsessing over the news and reading it with my coffee every morning. It was getting overwhelming and depressing so I decided that I would allow myself to read the news one weekday morning and continue to dive in deep with my Sunday New York Times. The rest of the mornings I would dedicate to doing something inspiring and worthwhile with my morning coffee. So every morning, I set my timer for half and hour, climb back in bed with my bulletproof coffee (you’ll see why I drink coffee with fat after you take the workshop) and I listen to a small part of the workshop.

My favorite tips so far:

  • Testing for an appropriate amount of stomach acid using a simple baking soda solution (I’ve had trouble with indigestion since my twenties so this is important to me).
  • Re-building stomach acid when it’s too low by drinking warm water with lime, lemon or apple cider vinegar while your stomach is empty.
  • The importance of seed rotation and ridding your life of toxins for balance of hormones.
  • What truly are some worthwhile nutrient-dense foods (like seaweed) and sardines.
  • Adding sprouts to my salads (did you know a large handful of broccoli sprouts is the nutritional equivalent of a whole head of broccoli?).
  • An in-depth study of why my diet needs to be so low in sugar (bad gut bacteria feeds on sugar for one thing!).
  • Why fats are so important for brain health and satiation after meals and why NOT to be afraid of fats - contrary to what I’ve believed all my life.
  • A simple meditative breathing technique that I now incorporate into my almost daily meditation practice - something I’ve easily fit into my day by doing while I’m brewing coffee.

All of the information I’ve been getting through this program I’ve also learned from other sources like through my work with Chris Kresser, the retreats I’ve put on and the Keto Clarity book, but I feel like Magdalena’s program is so concise and realistic I highly recommend checking it out.

Another good place to learn about some of this is the fall 3rd Act Healing Farm retreat! Join us for a look into midlife and nutritional tips for this transition as well!

The Healing Farm - Cultivating Practical Wellness!

Opportunities Gained Oh So Briefly and Lost. Recognizing the Impermanence of our Fleeting Emotions.

My husband and I watched with fascination a couple of weeks ago the incredible rise and fall of Milo Yiannopoulos. If you were reading the news a few weeks ago, he's the sensationalist ultra-conservative writer/speaker who was supposed to speak at UC Berkeley only to be cancelled due to a peaceful protest by UC Berkeley students being disrupted by a few anarchists. It all created a hoopla (rightfully so) about free speech and open communication on campuses across the US, but took an ugly turn by our current president when he threatened to pull federal funding to the University. The result is that Mr. Yiannopoulos, who was hardly a household name before the controversy, catapulted to fame. Within days, he was getting major press and as a result, major speaking engagements. With fame (or a controversial figure) comes lots of people digging into the past. It's the nature of our current (and damaging) 24 hour news cycle. Within what may have been as little as 48 hours, Mr. Yiannopoulos' reputation came tumbling down from revelations of past controversial remarks. It was an amazingly quick rise and fall and it made my husband and I talk of what he must have been feeling throughout this brief, but highly emotional time. From what must have been an ultimate high of becoming so famous and sought out to everything crashing down, to what must have been an ultimate emotional low in his life (he lost his speaking engagements, his book deal AND his job within 24 hours).

Why am I bringing this up? As I read more about meditation to try to understand my OWN emotional highs and lows while growing this business, I'm trying to grasp the understanding that our emotions, although sometimes palpably and physically real to us, are really meaningless. If you come to understand that your core being and consciousness never fluctuates from before you are born to the minute you die (and maybe beyond with the transfer of energy) you begin to understand that it doesn't really make sense to dwell in your emotions - whether high or low. This is NOT easy.

The other day, I met with a property owner whom I’ve admired for years. She and her husband have built an incredible business and property in a rural location and are working hard to build the business into the ultimate lifestyle they want for their future. This is also my concept behind The Healing Farm property. It would be my home. It would be my family and it would be my plan for retirement.

When I met with the property owner we knew we wanted to discuss the possibility of holding a THF retreat on the property, but we also knew we were both open to other possible working relationships. It came to light that a position which would fit a lot of my skills was opening up and it dawned on me that it might be the perfect transition out of photography and into the retreat/property management business. For a little less than 24 hours we were bouncing back and forth with emails about the possibility of me taking on the job. I discussed it with Brennan (my husband) and he was game. I became more and more excited as the evening and the e-mails progressed. My emotional excitement became palpable. I woke up four times during the night both elated and panicked about the possibility of such great change and opportunity. The next morning, I think the emotions transferred more to self-doubt and panic. Could I really handle the job and was I really the right fit for them? I exchanged a few more detailed e-mails about the job description and setting up a second visit to the property and continued to grow more excited and more panicky. Then I got the devastating e-mail that I was not a good fit. It was gracious and kind and true and it plummeted me to depths of self-doubt and fear that I hadn't experienced since I ran my first multi-day retreat. I found all this out while care-taking a sick friend's kids and had to hold in my emotions until I got to my car. I cried all the way home. And then I cried some more when I told Brennan the news and I cried some more when I went to sleep and I cried some more when I woke up and some more when I brewed the coffee.

And then a funny thing happened. I usually make coffee-brewing time my morning meditation time so I went to meditate. I came out of meditation with the realization that what's done is done, I am who I am and if the job didn't work out then it probably wasn't a good fit. The property owners recognized and weighed the risks of my relative inexperience and my long-term commitment. I realized I should do the same. I still felt like crap and was exhausted from the emotion, but I remembered the meditation book "The Untethered Soul" talking about the problem we all have with dwelling on emotions that can come and go as fleetingly as any thought.

I think the strongest analogy I read in the book was this: Say you are dating someone and really, really starting to like them and then suddenly you don't hear from them for a few days. They aren't answering or returning your calls. You start to panic. You start to wonder what you did wrong. You start to obsess about it and start beating yourself up about it (because it must have been something you did. Maybe you had bad breath, or said something dumb). This leads to feeling down about yourself which then leads to feeling borderline depressed and physically exhausted. Maybe even tears and loss of sleep. Suddenly this person calls and apologizes for being MIA. They had some good reason or another (family emergency?) for not being able to get back to you and they want to know if you're available to see them tonight because they really missed you and would love your company. You hang up the phone and suddenly your exhaustion is lifted and you're jumping up and down all over the living room.

How does our emotion change so quickly? Because everything is impermanent. Emotions ebb and flow at any whim, but if you learn to look deep enough into yourself and your consciousness, you can learn to tap into a part of you that never wavers. You are who you are. You are always there. Same as ever. Peaceful and calm very deep within and you can learn to tap into that at any time. This is what I realized I did when I meditated this morning. I have two lottery tickets sitting on the table and I guarantee if I had checked those tickets last night and found out I was a winner or if my husband told me he sold his screenplay or any other number of things that would have given me relief from the financial burden of starting a new company, my spirits would have lifted immediately. I needed to look deeper into what was causing my incredible emotional low and it was financial insecurity. But from what I've read through interviews with tons of entrepreneurs it’s that you have to be able to take risks. Both financial and emotional and recognize how much you are able to handle. If it's not for you. It's not for you. You are who you are. There will always be emotional highs and lows and you need to recognize them, acknowledge them and then let them go. If you can't, then you need to find a different path. You're on the wrong one!

Two additional things happened during this tumultuous 24 hours. Right before I went to bed the night of the tentative job offer, I picked up a book to read to try to make my flying high with emotion self try to relax a little. The book was recommended by a dear friend who is an amazing "doer" and entrepreneur. It's called "The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion" by Elle Luna. I wouldn't be surprised if this book skyrocketed to the NYT best-seller list as the latest-greatest self-help book and with good reason. It's a fun read and well done. What I wanted to happen when I opened it up to read that night was that I would miraculously be on a page that somehow "told" me I was considering the right path with this job opportunity, but instead, this was the last paragraph on the page I opened to:

"But what you don't want is to take a job that was intended to pay the bills and suddenly, you don't have time to explore your passion, you're too tired to step into that which you were put on this earth to do. And if, for some awful reason, you forget that money is a game, a make-believe concept that some people invented, you could be led back into the complex layered world of Should. And here, the loss isn't a financial one. You are the cost. Is it worth it?"

Guess what I did when I read that? I quickly closed the book and put it to the side. It seemed to be a direct message that was the exact opposite of what I wanted to hear and then the next day unfolded in what was probably the absolute right way for my future as devastating as it was initially.

The second thing that happened was this morning after I meditated. I was still pretty down from the rejection but when I went to get my coffee, my laptop and phone, I suddenly starting to feel like the owners of the property had just done me a huge favor. I turned my phone on and a few text messages came up. One of them was from a daily affirmation service. I'm not really one for daily affirmations other than reading what's on my tea bag tabs while I wait for the water to boil, but a friend who knows how I struggle with the great changes I'm going through to switch careers and start a new business told me about it so I decided to give it a try. The message that was sent yesterday (the day of the big rejection) that I was too emotional and busy to read was this: "Craving acceptance is human, but the 'validation trap' can trip us up. You are not for everyone, Julie; find relief in that today".

If only I wasn't so wrapped up in my emotions to read that yesterday. I'm not sure it would have stopped the tears. Sometimes you just have to let them fly, but I'm glad I read it today. Today I went from waking up feeling like I never wanted to get up again, to writing this blog post and going swimming this afternoon (a skill I'm determined to learn during this 50th year of my life). I made a reservation at an airbnb outside of Anza Borrego Park for next week so I can see the desert wildflowers on my way down to my southern California photo shoots (something I've wanted to do ever since moving to CA).  While staying down there, I also plan on getting caught up on reading, exploring a deeper meditation practice, hiking long days and trying my hand at writing my memoirs which is another project for my 50th year. I was really looking forward to this time alone before considering taking the job that so suddenly came up and was planning on dropping it all to stay and start the job, but now I'm realizing it's something I need and want to do and it's something much more important to me than money or opportunity. It's a time I've set aside to continue to learn and grow and to reach deep inside myself to get more in touch with the me in me.

Yes, money is important to survive, but Brennan and I have learned to live on very little. Do I want to be more financially secure? Absolutely. But Brennan and I are both on such a great path of discovery that it may be worth the temporary insecurity. I’m willing to watch my emotional highs and lows from an increasingly detached position and place of deep peace and see what happens. Either the world will open up to us and help us navigate to our true callings or we'll end up "living in a van down by the river:" (SNL)... Really. I may be ok with either one!

Something YOU can Control in Many Cases - Your Health!

From the Washington Post

From the Washington Post

As someone who may be effected by possible upcoming changes in our healthcare system, the Washington Post article in my Google newsfeed today caught my eye. It's really not just that the new administration may make changes that could effect millions of people that made me look at this article, but also that I'm trying to start a business that will help us all realize that we don't have to be so dependent on our current healthcare and insurance industries to relieve some of our chronic conditions. I suppose that might be what the new administration is trying to say by dumping the Affordable Care Act, but alas, they are not talking about prevention to avoid high healthcare and insurance costs or programs which teach people how to avoid those costs to begin with.

This Washington Post article is such an eye opener about just how much we are spending in the industry on health conditions that CAN be preventable and in many cases managed through diet and exercise. The thing is that having someone else do the work for us (procedures, surgeries, pharmaceuticals, etc) is WAY easier than doing the hard work ourselves and if someone else is paying for it - all the better, right? But the thing is we're ALL paying for it, whether through government programs OR through our escalating coverage costs through private work plans. I remember when I was in my mid-twenties and some of my chronic conditions started rearing their ugly heads. I had really good insurance through my employer. I thought nothing of going to the doctor every couple of months (thinking that I really wasn't paying for it). Getting tested for this and tested for that. Getting this prescription and that prescription...fast forward twenty-something years and I'm self employed with terrible health insurance. I had to re-think my approach to dealing with all of my chronic conditions (which seemed to be multiplying with age). 

In walks functional medicine. Digging deep with a practitioner to figure out the core issues that might have been causing all my misery over the years was the easy part (and the most expensive but still far less than what I've spent over the last twenty years). Doing the work to naturally rid myself of these conditions was the hard part. But considering I came out the other side of the treatment and commitment almost 100% chronic pain and condition free has inspired me to re-think our healthcare industry. For sure there are treatments and meds that save lives and relieve pain - if I hadn't gotten an appendectomy several years ago, I would not be typing here today! But in reading the Washington Post article it's right there in black and white that we really CAN be controlling these out of control healthcare costs if we are actually willing to bite the bullet and do the hard work. To lose the weight, to become more fit and to alleviate some of those chronic conditions naturally and ultimately at a much lower cost AND to not be so dependent on treatments and prescriptions can save all of us literally TRILLIONS of dollars.

The Healing Farm and The Healing Farm | Retreats concept is all about prevention. I want to inspire other people struggling with one, two or multiple chronic conditions, auto-immune diseases, obesity and all that comes with it, to try the preventative route. Start with an elimination diet to reduce inflammation in your body. This may help with not just your physical chronic conditions, but also your emotional state as well. Two books that I used and will always recommend are: "The Paleo Cure" by Chris Kresser (what my Healing Farm Retreat's meal plan and concept is based on) and Dr. Kelly Brogan's book "A Mind of your Own". If you are still suffering after your elimination diet, then it might be time to see a functional medicine practitioner to get some blood work done. This is the expensive part and is probably not covered in your insurance plan (something that needs to change!), but if it reveals a host of underlying issues (in my case a parasite living in my system and deficiencies in some key vitamins) think of how much money in co-pays and prescription costs you may save in the long term by figuring it out in one fell swoop and then tackling the cures naturally!

As I said, we've gotten so used to depending on our healthcare and insurance system to cure our multiple ills - but it's at a huge cost for our country. Envision healing centers throughout the country that are affordable and all about preventative measures and natural healing. It could do us all a world of good both in our bodies and in our pocketbooks!

The Healing Farm - Cultivating Practical Health!

"Not too Hippie Dippy" but Offering Meditation and Yoga at the THF Retreats? Disconnect or Smart?

When I first started dreaming of The Healing Farm retreat property and wellness ranch concept I always said that I wanted to offer "tasteful and affordable" retreats. Not too high-end where they become unaffordable to most people, but I also wanted to build a property that is lovely and austere offering programs that aren't too "hippie dippy" and intimidating. I've been told that using the term "hippie dippy" might insult some people. It's kind of like referring to myself as being "efficient" because of the German in me. I can say it because I'm German! And I feel like I can poke fun of the hippie dippy culture because - well - I'm a little hippie dippy myself!

I've not been to Spirit Rock Meditation Center mostly because I've not had a meditation practice in the past (pretty good reason), but even as I've started dipping my toe into meditation, I figured I would be intimidated and not feel like I belong because I don't have a long history of meditation in my life or even at this point a deep and regular practice. But as I've moved in the past couple of years into starting this new business called The Healing Farm and The Healing Farm | Retreats, I've also been introduced to the challenges of midlife and peri-menopause. As I mentioned in my post about turing 50, this is not an easy time to be making big changes!

As I was approaching my last multi-day retreat; planning/facilitating, putting myself out there and doing something I've never done before, I was met with some great challenges. Two things happened during this time:

1) I had a photo assignment at Rancho La Puerta (I photograph there once a year or so for their marketing materials) and brought my cousin Annie as my guest. Annie has a regular meditation practice and while we were there I decided I should check out RLP's introduction to meditation. One of my fave instructors (JayDee!) was teaching that day and he taught me some very important lessons about meditation:

  • That there will ALWAYS be thoughts moving in and out of your brain. It's constant, but what we're trying to do with meditation is learn to look at those thoughts in a detached way without judgement, without letting our emotions get in the way and simply observing them and then letting them go. This made me feel like I wasn't failing every time I've tried meditating in the past. It's normal to continue to have thoughts pass through your mind when you're meditating and that simply learning to let them go by returning to your breath (or chant or prayer or whatever you decide to use) is the key to living more in the present and not allowing your thoughts to consume you.
  • He admitted straight away that he's a type A personality (and if you've ever met JayDee you could figure that out in an instant) and that if he can teach himself to meditate and to have a regular practice, just about anyone can! Although I'm not a type A personality (far from it) this also made me feel a bit less intimidated about the fact that I felt like I couldn't control the constant flow of thoughts in my head.
  • He taught us tricks to bring your mind back into the present and to the breath. One of the practices that I still use regularly is counting to ten (repeating the number with both your in breath and your out breath). This practice helps me so much as my mind drifts to realize that maybe I'm at 11 and oh! that means my mind has drifted and I need to come back to my breath and my one through ten numbers).

2) At the end of our week together at Rancho La Puerta, Annie and I went to the "Oak Tree" space and meditated together for twenty minutes. It was such a lovely experience and such a nice way to end our week together. Annie then sent me a book that I have found incredibly helpful in teaching myself meditation: Thich Nhat Hanh's "The Miracle of Mindfulness" (an introduction to the practice of meditation). This book was key in starting my practice. Another book that has helped me get a little further into my practice is Pema Chodron's "When Things Fall Apart".

I still consider myself a "beginner" in my practice since I really only meditate 10 minutes a day (15 if I add in my deep breathing practice) and usually only about four days a week. This is fine for me right now and even with that tiny bit of practice, very early on I realized that when I woke up during the night in a panic (this was a combination of peri-menopause and planning that first big retreat) I could calm myself down and soothe myself back into sleep by practicing my one to ten counting meditation. It was amazing to me how quickly this worked for me and I still do it every time I wake up in the night. Panic is not part of my nights anymore because I now know how to tame my thoughts, put them aside and not let them consume me.

So to celebrate the end of my wedding photography season, also a private (me only!) celebration of turing 50 AND as a start to visiting retreat centers as I dive into learning more about existing retreat centers and various programs out there, I decided to be brave and signed up for a one day women's retreat at Spirit Rock. It was called "Women, Wisdom and Meditation" and our leader was Grace Fisher. One of the first things Grace said to us was that she was attending a retreat at Spirit Rock last year and she felt a sense of not "belonging". She then told us that this was despite the fact that she has been teaching at Spirit Rock for 17 years! For someone who was at her first retreat at Spirit Rock and who was feeling like a little bit of a "meditation impostor" this shocked me but as I continued to listen to her talk, I realized that many women feel this sense of not belonging and thus we started our retreat day understanding that we all belong. As human beings living on this earth and in this universe we are ALL connected and we should ALL feel like we belong. 

I've recognized that meditation and prayer have been practiced for more than a couple of millennia for good reason. It calms us. It reminds us that there is something greater than all the thousands of thoughts that go through our heads constantly and that we really ARE all connected on this earth and in this universe. Meditation isn't just for the hippie dippie and prayer isn't just for the practicing religious. They both can be a great source of calm and comfort in lives that aren't perfect, that include lots of stress, emotion and difficult times. Therefore, I decided in planning this upcoming multi-day retreat that including meditation, both guided and long "sits" would be an important addition to the program. In navigating this midlife transition not only do we need to learn how to manage our physical self but we also need to learn how to manage our emotional self too.

In my next post, I'll be introducing the yoga instructor (Amanda Crutcher!) who will be joining us for the upcoming Women's Health Retreat which will feature lectures by Dr. Amy Nett, M.D. (one of Chris Kresser's first clinicians). Dr. Nett will teach us natural and functional medicine practices for navigating mid-life and menopause. We will also be hearing from Coach Emily Boorstein on navigating the emotional side (I just bought Emily's mother's book at Spirit Rock: "It's Easier Than You Think" by Sylvia Boorstein) and I will talk a little bit more in the next post about how we will build meditation into this retreat. I hope you will join us in January!

Inspiration From a True Renaissance Woman - Leslie McGuirk

From the blog of Leslie McGuirk

From the blog of Leslie McGuirk

I've mentioned before that one of my favorite places in the world is Rancho La Puerta in Tecate Mexico. I'm fortunate enough to go there about once a year to photograph for their marketing materials. A couple of years ago, one of their visiting speakers was Leslie McGuirk. Serendipity! I am so inspired by this woman and all of her talents!

When Leslie was at the ranch, my sister-in-law happened to be with me and was excited to see a talk by an astrologer on the speaker schedule. I was skeptical, but have always loved reading my horoscope once in a while and curiosity was peaked! We went to see her speak and I ended up going to the rest of her lectures that week and then ended up getting a private consultation to get my chart read! No matter what you believe, life will always be a true mystery and this was such a fascinating process! 

Leslie and I have kept in touch and when I announced the Mayacamas Ranch retreat with Chris Kresser, Leslie contacted me and was so excited about attending because she has followed Chris Kresser for a long time. I was exited to talk to Leslie about the possibility of speaking at the retreat, but alas, due to a family emergency she can't attend. She forwarded her latest websites so I could check out what she's been up to lately and as always, I was inspired by her. 

Not only is Leslie a world-famous astrologer, but she's also a well-known children's book illustrator and author! As I poured through her fascinating work online, I was particularly struck by both the blog post above which was in relation to a lecture she recently did at Rancho La Puerta, but also her Quirkyville cast of characters. I told her it reminded me of a long-ago experience when I was working at a tiny ad agency in San Francisco.  Our VERY quirky Creative Director exclaimed one day that our small cast of 11 at the agency were equivalent to "The Land of Misfit Toys". My dear friend who was on the account side, was a little insulted by this comment, but I laughed and said I was proud to be compared to the "misfit toys". I remembered that scene so well from "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", the classic Christmas show I watched as a kid. I remember thinking  way back then that I loved the quirkiness of the land of misfit toys and wouldn't mind being a part of it! So when I saw Leslie's Quirkyville characters, I decided I wanted that to be my next gift for my friend's kids.

It's ok to be different! Embrace it and don't be afraid to be quirky. It may just lead you to that place "where the magic happens"!

THF - Cultivating Practical Wellness!

Jessica Prentice of Three Stone Hearth - Cooking Demo at the Women's Health Retreat!

I couldn't be more thrilled to have signed on Jessica Prentice, author of "Full Moon Feast" and co-founder of Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley to do a cooking demo and talk at our Women's Health retreat! Jessica will join Marnie Reasor, CCH of Resplendent Healing and The Healing Farm | Retreats at our one-day "A Natural Approach to Menopause" retreat which will be held February 27th at the gorgeous and unique Headlands Center for the Arts.

Given the amazing business that Jessica co-founded focussing on providing ready-made bone broths and nourishing meals to the dedicated far and wide and her devotion to whole foods cooking evident in her passionate book, I for one, will be more than interested in hearing Jessica talk about bone broth as an important addition to our daily diet! Also how, if at all, drinking bone broth and making nourishing soups with it can help our body's transition through menopause. She will then go on to demonstrate making a nourishing soup with Three Stone Hearth chicken broth. Plus there will be a bonus surprise in your goodie bag at the end of the day!

Don't miss this unique day of talks, cooking demo, meals, yoga and a bit of fresh air in the Marin Headlands (weather permitting). Sign up today for what will be a really special retreat!

The Healing Farm - Cultivating Practical Wellness

 

 

Esther Gokhale and her "8 Steps to a Pain Free Back"

Last week I had to get my “Eight Steps to a Pain Free Back” out. How sad. After all of my work keeping gluten out of my diet and my chronic back pain at bay, I went overboard this Christmas and ate lots of gluten-full things. Oh the Christmas cookies and the Yorkshire pudding with the prime rib and why not eat pizza while I’m at it, oh and that Acme Bakery epi baguette at the San Francisco Ferry Building with a glass of prosecco! Screeeeech. Everything came to a halt. All of my between Christmas and New Year’s organization projects to help me be in a better state of mind so I can start my transition to building The Healing Farm concept?  Out the window. It started with that water feeling in my ears. Then the next day it turned into a raging sinus headache. Then later that evening a full blown cold. Just when the cold was starting to get better, in walked that Yorkshire pudding on NYE and lots of bubbly and two days later I found myself flat on my back for a week nursing the worst back pain I’ve experienced since I originally hurt my back seven years ago.

Out came Esther’s book. I LOVE this book. I was never able to afford to go to one of her workshops so my dear friend and licensed acupuncturist, Sara Rankin of Alma Acupuncture gave me Esther’s book “Eight Steps to a Pain Free back”:

What I love about this book is it’s simplicity. What was most important to me in glancing at it while on bed-rest this past week was how to position myself sleeping at night. Oh how it helped my back. Slight traction all night long! For a habitual stomach/side sleeper, sleeping on my back is almost impossible to maintain long-term, but what has stuck with me for all these years since originally reading her book is how to sit! Sitting in the position she recommends and staying relatively gluten-free through the teachings ofChris Kresser has reduced my chronic back pain (until this recent episode) probably by eighty percent! If you struggle with chronic back pain I urge you to visit Esther’s site and if you can’t afford one of her classes, at least get a copy of her book or look into one of her free workshops! It will change your chronically painful life!

Naturopath Chris Kresser and "Your Personal Paleo Code"

As I continued my healing path, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to holistic health practitioner, Chris Kresser author of “Your Personal Paleo Code” which is now out in paperback and renamed “The Paleo Cure”. You can go to Chris’ website at www.chriskresser.com to learn so much more about Chris’ incredible naturopathic teachings. Join his forum, listen to his podcasts, get on his e-mail blast because this man is full of healing information! What I loved about Chris’ approach is how realistic he is about lifestyle changes. He knows it’s hard to make major changes for your long-term health goals so is realistic in his approach. I would more than encourage you to read his book “The Paleo Cure” :

I was fortunate enough to be able to consult with Chris personally about all of my chronic conditions listed in my Fast Forward Three Years post and he encouraged me to try a “paleo reset” – a concept described in detail in his book. My heart sank a little when he first suggested this because I thought of paleo as such a trend. I was more than thrilled when he explained his concept about your “personal” paleo code and his “paleo reset” concept. Basically it’s a month-long elimination diet in which you embrace the paleo eating habits (but not quite as strict) for a month, see how you feel and then start adding different food categories back in (e.g. – dairy, gluten, etc) and then see if any of your old chronic conditions start popping up. This was a concept I could wrap my head around! At the time he hadn’t written his book yet, so gave me some detailed instructions and set me free.

Lo and behold, I discovered I had a very slight gluten allergy – certainly not to the degree of Celiac disease, but enough that I realized what was causing all of my manageable but uncomfortable chronic conditions. I added some things back in but in much more moderation (low lactose dairy, some whole gluten-free grains, a bit of caffeine, red wine, etc) but discovered that every time I ate gluten my old chronic conditions would start popping up. It has taken me a long time (three years!) and I still break down and eat gluten once in a while, but when I do my ears get the feeling of being under water. If I really go overboard, I inevitably get a full-blown cold. Even more than the cold, I get indigestion, I get bloated, I get sinus headaches, my chronic back pain gets worse. It’s really amazing and it’s all about INFLAMMATION. That danged chronic problem! If your body is constantly fighting against an invader (an allergy like gluten or dairy), your immune system is going to be constantly working against it and will weaken, allowing inflammation in and – aack – will allow all those pesky other things to start rearing their ugly heads!

I encourage you to read Chris’ book and visit his site and hope that someday The Healing Farm – Retreat Series will feature Chris and his realistic approach! I plan on posting more about my own healing journey and the small things I do to keep the inflammation in my body to a minimum, but Chris Kresser and his healing practices have done more for me in my life than anything else – bar none. After 25 years of chronic conditions, I know how I can keep them at bay. That’s a big deal.

Fast Forward Three Years!

Hi all! Wow! It’s been three years since my little healing sabbatical. It was back to work and not a word of writing since. Shame on me! That does not mean I haven’t been working on my healing, but it does mean I would like to start sharing again as I have so much to update and so many ideas percolating!

As of three years ago, here were my problems:

  • Overweight: Female, 5’6” and 167 pounds
  • Chronic back pain: It’s now been six years since my initial episode
  • Chronic indigestion: About twenty years
  • Chronic sinus headaches: About fifteen years
  • Chronic fatigue (moderate)
  • Joint pain: On and off for ten or so years

Sheesh. Overall I was fine and functioning and still looked pretty good despite my weight (I was thinking I hid it well), but I wanted to feel better. My biggest problem was my chronic back pain, which is what prompted my healing sabbatical and this blog.

I took a six-week sabbatical three years ago. During that time,  I wrote about my progress and health, I didn’t work (I’m a photographer and didn’t want to do any heavy lifting), I practiced yoga or walked every day, rested, saw a chiropractor and acupuncturist and watched what I ate. Almost nothing changed.

Fast forward three years and I have done the following:

  • Weight: Lost 25 pounds
  • Back Pain: Went from chronic back pain an average of 80% of the time to 0-20%
  • Sinus headaches: One recent bout, but about 100% clear for two years
  • Indigestion: One bout almost a year ago, but almost 100% clear for two years
  • Chronic fatigue (a little less)
  • Joint Pain: Less, but still there

Please follow the next few weeks of writing to find out what I’ve done during my SLOOOOOOOW  and continuing route to recovery! In the meantime, here is a before and after (scary to post the “before”)!

Before

After