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!

NeuroMuscular Reprogramming

I've written before about my chronic back pain in the SI joint area and that the work I did with Chris Kresser brought my eight year chronic pain from feeling it 60-100% of the time down to 0-20% of the time just by reducing inflammation in my body, but alas, the pain still lurks. Although reducing inflammation has been life-changing in reducing the pain, the underlying issue is still unresolved

For my 50th birthday, my in-laws gave me a gift of an initial consultation and treatment with Jocelyn Olivier of Healus Neuro-Rehab Center. I had never heard of "NeuroMuscular Reprogramming" but my mother-in-law was pretty enthusiastic so I gave it a try. From the minute Jocelyn started working on me I was amazed at her quick and confident actions. I was literally in good hands with someone I could tell could "feel" my body and what it needed. 

NeuroMuscular Reprogramming, or NMR, is an elegant and efficient protocol for figuring out and correcting the coordination dysfunctions that cause most musculo-skeletal pain, joint misalignment and degeneration. It can be done clothed or in the context of your regular bodywork practice. It fits inside your other modalities and increases the effectiveness of your work.

I'm still working with Jocelyn and one of her other therapists (Terez!) to try to unpeel the layers of years of corrections my body has made from past injuries. In my last session, Jocelyn had me in a position and started pressing on a point in my lower back that actually pinpointed where the deep pain was coming from. This is something nobody has been able to do because the pain was so deeply buried. At first it hurt a lot, but she kept pressing but then the pain diminished little by little and when finally it was completely gone I started crying. Even though I still feel the pain (we haven't quite gotten to it 100%), through all the work she's done thus far, something was finally released and the crying was an emotional release from years of pain being buried deep within.

I'm pretty passionate about the work she's doing and thought I would share this walking workshop she's offering on April 29th. I have a commitment already for that day, but I'm going to try to work this walking program into my schedule if I can and hope I see some familiar faces!

Working with Healus is not inexpensive, but if you have a chronic pain issue and reducing inflammation alone isn't quite getting to the bottom of it, maybe give it an initial consultation and see if this therapy might be a good fit for you.

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!

Faye Alexandrakis of The Gokhale Method Joins The Mayacamas Ranch Reset Retreat to Offer a Free Healthy Back Workshop!

Before I became a patient of Chris Kresser's and about three years into my chronic back pain - after trying many, many things to heal my back short of surgery - a good friend who is an acupuncturist told me about Esther Gohale and the Gokhale Method for helping to relieve back pain.  She let me know that free workshops are offered throughout the country and that one was coming up in Berkeley. I wasn't able to attend so my friend was sweet enough to buy me Esther's book "8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back"

I love that Esther has devoted her life to helping people with chronic back pain and admire the fact that although she offers paid extensive workshops and private consultations, she is so passionate about sharing her ideas that she also offers the free workshops and the book. She's reaching out to as many people as she can to get her message of healing out. This is what The Healing Farm and The Healing Farm | Retreats aims to do. To bring practical and affordable wellness solutions to the attention of many!

So I was thrilled when the Bay Area's local Gokhale Method Practitioner, Faye Alexandrakis agreed to give a free evening workshop at the Mayacamas Ranch Paleo Reset Retreat! I have her set to be our evening "entertainment" on Monday night (see the full week's schedule here). If you have chronic back issues, the combination of listening to Chris Kresser speak, launching your paleo reset AND attending the Gokhale Method Healthy Back Workshop will be a pretty great bang for your buck at this retreat. Between all of the above, I went from being in chronic back pain 80-100% of the time to 0-15% of the time. Seriously, it's a life-changer!

THF - Cultivating Practical Wellness! 

THF | Top Ten Tips For Help Alleviating Chronic Back Pain

I'm inspired to write this post as a succinct way to respond to people who ask me all the time how I got rid of almost %100 of my chronic back pain. I was in pain for almost seven years and I would say I felt pain at various levels 80-100% of the time. It was exhausting, frustrating, depressing and expensive. I spent a lot of time and money seeing various practitioners, doing research, getting an MRI, getting a cortisone shot (something that didn't work for me and I considered a bandaid anyway). I stopped short of back surgery because I was self-employed and my insurance was not very good and a lot of what I read about back surgery for chronic pain was not very inspiring. It's very invasive surgery and often doesn't work. I do know back surgery has worked for others and certainly what worked for me may not work for you, but I want to help get information out there that might help without too much trouble and expense!

I also had a whole slew of other chronic conditions in addition to the back pain: indigestion, fatigue, sinus headaches that were near migraine, restless leg syndrome (RLS), low libido and fluctuating weight (most of these other conditions I suffered with for over twenty years). When I was deciding about the back surgery, I figured I should give a natural approach one more shot. It didn't even occur to me that what I would do would also alleviate most of my other chronic conditions, but here I am to tell the tale!

#1 - Read Chris Kresser's Book: "The Paleo Cure" (no I'm not 100% paleo) 

I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Chris Kresser by a friend of mine and he took me on as a patient. I'd heard of a Naturopathic alternative to Western medicine and figured I would give it a shot. Functional Medicine is now the terminology used to describe Chris' approach and I respect that it's not a bandaid. The approach tries to get at the root of the problem (often a whole slew of problems) and then to work at curing these problems in natural ways. There seems to be some controversy about the validity of Functional Medicine on Wikipedia, but it worked for me, so that's what counts in my book. I won't get into all of what we did to work through my conditions but the short list is:

  • Getting rid of a parasite in my gut
  • Rebuilding my gut flora
  • Replenishing vitamins d and b12 (I personally attribute the lack of b12 in my system for the RLS - a month into the protocol I completely stopped getting restless legs - and if you've ever had it you know how miserable it can be. I've only felt it a handful of times in the three years since my treatment and I just pump up my b12 and voila! It's gone!)
  • A Paleo Reset************

******** The Paleo Reset. I think this was the key to reducing my back pain to almost zero. If you have a whole slew of conditions like I did, you may want to visit a Functional Medicine practitioner like Chris, but if you can't afford it, or you're just trying to test out getting rid of your chronic pain before considering something more serious and invasive, read Chris' book. Really it's about doing an elimination diet to reduce chronic inflammation in your body. Inflammation is often the root of many conditions. The idea, is that if you eliminate common inflammation causing foods or foods to which your body is sensitive, you will likely reduce the inflammation in your body that might be causing your chronic conditions. After your month-long journey (not easy!) you start adding back into your diet certain foods and listen to your body about what then produces the pain again. In my case it's a sensitivity to gluten and dairy. I also keep mostly clear of nightshades (like tomatoes and eggplant), eggs, peppers, etc.

So no, I'm not 100% paleo (I could never give up corn and gluten free bread!), but I am almost 100% organic and grass-fed and mostly steer clear of what I now know causes inflammation. And Seriously, I have a direct reaction almost every Christmas and every time I go to the midwest for my annual family vacation in Wisconsin and go overboard on gluten, dairy, alcohol, etc. - it starts with crackly ears, then I get the sinus headaches, then a full-on cold, indigestion and last Christmas, I went so overboard, I actually "threw out" my back. I was laying almost flat for a week and that didn't even happen the first time I hurt my back! Thankfully, I quickly recovered and I am still almost 100% pain free.

#2 - Superfeet!

 

If you can't afford to go to a podiatrist or chiropractor, try Superfeet! I now have custom orthotics, but it was the suggestion of a friend who had similar foot issues to mine that suggested I try Superfeet - easy to pick up at REI or online and inexpensive compared to custom orthotics. If you want to see if better foot support helps your back, this is a good way to start. Put them in your workout shoes first and if it helps, go on to put them in your work shoes, slippers, etc. If it really does help, you may want to get checked out for custom orthotics for the long-term just to make sure you've got the best fit. Not cheap, but it was worth it for me.

#3 - The Gokhale Method - Eight Steps to a Pain-Free Back

This book really helped me when I was in acute pain. For the most part, I sleep and sit differently after reading this. Every once in a while I find myself rolling over onto my stomach when sleeping and have to correct myself (I was always a stomach sleeper). If I don't correct myself I'll really pay for it. Same with getting lazy on the couch. It's WAY better if I sit according to the direction of this book (and no, it doesn't mean you can't lounge when watching TV - there's just a better way to do it!). Bending over and picking things up correctly is also helpful and I'm forever correcting myself with my posture when sitting and standing, but for the most part my posture is auto-corrected by habit. The Gokhale Method does have extensive paid workshops, but they also offer free workshops all over the place if you just want a taste of it.

#4 - Strengthen Your Core!!!

I know you've heard this a million times, but REALLY - STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE. It's one of the best things you can do for yourself. This should almost be number one, but every one of these tips will lay your foundation for a pain-free back, so there really is no order of importance. If you are in acute pain, check with a physical therapist for some very basic core strengthening exercises so you don't injure yourself. but here are some (at home) core strengthening tips:

  • Beginner Power Vinyasa Yoga - I have been doing yoga on and off for 25 years so picking up a beginner yoga video seemed odd for me, but I was considering going to a Core Power yoga studio regularly and since it's REALLY hard, I figured I would try it at home first for a while so I wouldn't embarrass myself again at the studio (I almost passed out). What I found was that although the video is really basic, it's really a very good overall yoga workout with a focus on the core. After doing this video many times and memorizing the sequences, I ended up shortening the routine to fit with my schedule since I didn't need the extra coaching on getting the positions right. I never did go back to the studio and don't go regularly to another yoga studio either because it's expensive and time consuming and I do fine on my own, but once in a while it's a real treat to go to a yoga class - it's just not Core Power when I do. Too hard! Ha! So I just looked and it looks like you can't get this video anymore! I think we should all write to Lisa Richards and ask her to re-make it for a download!!! 
  • Once you feel strong enough, you can add in more intense core workout videos and alternate them in with your yoga practice. I continue to workout at home because I (and THF) am all about building practical and affordable wellness solutions into my everyday life. I find Jay a little annoying, but the J-Core videos are really good core workouts. Jillian Michaels also has some good ones. Just be careful and don't overdo. Do your core power yoga on alternate days so you don't hurt yourself!
  • Now that I'm almost 100% pain free (and running two businesses) and have a super strong core, I now stick with the New York Times Seven Minute Workout followed by a short stretch routine that I've developed based on all of the work I've done and been exposed to over the years. Stay tuned for a video of this workout which I hope to produce within the next month or so! This routine along with the seven-minute workout fits in with my crazy life, maintains my core strength and is short enough that I don't dread doing it four to five times a week. It's really good for maintenance - but not for weight loss!

#5 - Lose weight

Ugh. This is something I continue to struggle with, BUT in my quest for a pain-free back, I lost 25 pounds through diet and exercise. I have since gained about 15 back, but because I was successful in doing all of the other steps to alleviate my back pain, I have not gone back to the chronic pain despite the weight gain. I'm willing to bet if I were really good about being 100% gluten free and could shed that 15 pounds again I would likely be 100% pain-free all the time. Some habits are just REALLY hard to change permanently. Really, there just is no magic formula for losing weight. It's reducing calories and increasing exercise. Bottom line. Here's what helped me:

  • Controlled portions through boxed diet meals - there are a lot more organic and healthy options these days. This is an easy and inexpensive way to start to learn to control portions. 
  • When you plateau you might step it up to Weight Watchers for a while.
  • The Jillian Michael's 20 minute workout is really hard, but it really helped me shed the pounds. Plus she's really cool and it's only 20 minutes! Remember, the Seven Minute Workout is good for maintenance but to lose weight you're going to need to step it up for a while.

#6 - A standing desk

standingdesk.JPG

I don't stand all the time, but I would say I stand the majority of time at this point. I already had an old Ikea Fredrik desk (sadly it doesn't look like they make them anymore) that Brennan adjusted for me to make a standing desk, but there seem to be lots of options online. I also wear supportive shoes (think orthotics, danskos, superfeet insoles, etc) and I bought a thick standing pad like the ones they use for grocery store checkout clerks. Someday I may convert to a treadmill desk, but I'm not quite there yet. I still do a lot of retouching for my photography business and there's too much finessing to be walking at the same time. Plus it would be a bit more complicated to switch out for the chair when I want to sit. The chair I got is a drafting chair with supportive back. The office supply stores have not wised up yet on the standing desks so they don't really offer any of this stuff so online if your best bet.

#7 - Walk and ride your bike as much as you can for errands!

Seriously, unless you are in acute pain, build as much movement as you can into your everyday routine. I know you've heard this one before too, but it really helps to keep moving.

#8 - Pay attention to your vitamin and mineral intake

Build up your immunity and find out what will help reduce inflammation. Omega-3 high quality fish oil supplement is important if you don't get enough omega-3 through your regular diet. I try but don't succeed so through a recommendation by Chris Kresser I use a supplement. I've used the Green Pasture formula for a few years, but noticed when writing this that there has been some recent controversy. Please read Chris' recent article on what he now recommends.

#9 - Stay Hydrated

Seriously. Drink a lot of water. I have a friend who says when she gets a "crick" in her shoulder, she drinks a ton of water and it goes away. I don't have such direct and immediate results as she does. but I do notice a difference in a lot of things when I'm dehydrated. 

#10 - Change Careers

So, not only did I have all this inflammation in my body and even though I thought I was healthy - obviously I was not before I did all this, I also am in a career that is VERY hard on the body - both mentally and physically. This is why I'm so passionate about starting The Healing Farm and yelling from the mountaintops about not needing to live with chronic pain! I've been a photographer on and off for twenty years and a wedding photographer for almost fifteen years. It's a killer on the body and although everything I've done to strengthen my core and all the other things have helped, my body is still trashed the day after I shoot a wedding. It's time to change careers and do something that's better for my body and mind. It's what I will be passionately working on in the present and near future. I hope through The Healing Farm and The Healing Farm | Retreats that I will be able to share practical wellness solutions for so many people who need to know these simple solutions! Good luck to you and let me know if you have any questions and come to our Paleo Reset Retreat , listen to Chris Kresser talk about his approach in person and kick-start your reset with this week-long 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.

Beginning Power Vinyasa Yoga - Core Power Yoga

OK. So I have done yoga on and off for over twenty years. Why would I choose a beginner video??!!!! Because I was a beginner in Core Power Yoga for one and secondly, I still needed to be careful with my back.

I realized I missed yoga, but still could not afford the luxury of going to a yoga studio once or twice a week and by getting used to the Jillian Michaelsvideo, I discovered I really liked the ease and low cost of working out at home. It was about this time that I was shooting a somewhat regular gig at a glorious place called Rancho La Puerta. This is a spa in Mexico and I’m lucky enough to do photography for their marketing materials.

I was down there for a week of shooting and my client told me the Core Power Yoga people were there that week. I had never heard of Core Power but was curious because I knew building my core was essential for continuing my quest to end chronic back pain. I didn’t have the chance to try a class while I was at the ranch but discovered a Core Power studio near my home so tried it out.

Sheesh was it hard. Nothing like any yoga class I had ever been in. We even used weights. I liked it, but needed something a little less intense and didn’t want to commit the time and finances to going to a yoga studio every week so I bought their Beginner Power Vinyasa video taught by Lisa Richards.

LOVE it and still do it to this day. It’s an amazing full body yoga workout and really does work the core. I’ve found over time that Lisa dwells a lot on some of the positions because she is teaching, but I’ve done it often enough that I know how to cut it down to about 45 minutes and still feel I get a terrific practice.

Read on to discover a trick to committing to exercise almost every day!

Developing a Weight Loss Program That Works for You

A couple of years after my sabbatical I realized I needed to try once more to get rid of my chronic back pain. I decided a good first step was to lose weight. I didn’t think I was THAT overweight and didn’t own a full-length mirror to be able to see what I really looked like on a day-to-day basis. I can’t remember if I even owned a scale. BIG mistake!

I bought a mirror and this is probably when I bought my scale, and was in shock when I discovered I was almost 170 pounds (5’6”)! I went into the living room and told my husband that I needed to seriously lose weight and was shocked when he agreed with me (normally he tells me he likes me just the way I am). This was the AHA! Moment. It was devastating and I broke into tears. I immediately started planning and told my husband I needed to do it my way and didn’t want to hear any push-back about how I was doing it.

The first ten pounds:

I decided I wasn’t going to do any fad anything this time and needed to start reducing portions. I started looking into various home meal deliveries and realized I couldn’t afford even the cheap ones. It was at that point I decided I could create my own system cheaply by going and buying the pre-packaged diet meals at the grocery store. I’m incredibly picky at this point about eating whole and non-processed foods and was a little bit back then so didn’t want to put anything in my body that was too fake, too much salt, etc. I did a little research and found the lean cuisine food wasn’t too bad. Neither was my local grocery store brand. Here’s how I ate almost every day for the first ten pounds:

  • Pre-breakfast: ½ grapefruit
  • Breakfast: three egg whites scrambled with veggies and coffee
  • Mid-morning snack: an apple or ½ banana
  • Lunch: a boxed diet meal plus a salad or carrots to supplement
  • Mid-afternoon: a square of dark chocolate and coffee or tea (decaf)
  • Pre-dinner snack: cut up cucumber
  • Dinner: another boxed diet meal plus salad
  • After dinner: (mid-evening ) an small mandarin or another square of dark chocolate
  • If I was really dying (or PMS) I would eat a bag of Trader Joe’s organic single serve popcorn

I lasted about 1.5 months on this system and lost my first ten. I was also learning to run errands on my bike and was walking more with my hubby for increased exercise.

Next ten pounds:

I was stuck and sick of the diet meals  and needed to change it up! On to Weight Watchers!

Weight Watchers is still an amazing system for losing weight especially now that you can keep track electronically.  I stuck with WW for about three months and slowly lost the next ten pounds. I made all of my own food or supplemented with Lean Cuisines when I didn’t have time to cook BUT STAYED AWAY from anything that was fake (no skinny cows!).

Final five pounds

After three months and ten pounds I needed another change and was used to cooking for my new portion control so I picked up my exercise program and lost the last five pounds in another couple of months.  My next post will  be about the increased exercise!

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