When you feel worse after trying to feel better

I decided very last minute on Friday to fly home to get my happy back.

My mom lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and I wanted nothing more then to leave LA behind for a bit and feel some of the peace, serenity, and calmness that comes with mountain life. This all came after I left a stressful doctors appointment addressing the interpretation of another MRI I had done for my back. I brought my boyfriend for support, as if I knew I was going to need it.

I did. I felt overwhelmed, at a loss, and completely emotionally drained after hearing what I thought was wrong in fact is something completely different.

Instead of issues stemming from my sacroiliac joints like I was told a year ago, it is actually a 3-4 mm building disc in my L5 including some other nerve related issues...basically it's pretty bad. I got another MRI because it felt like something wasn’t right. So, I’m happy to have answers but I feel like I’m starting over again.

For those of you who read my earlier post, where I vulnerably share about my chronic lower back pain that I’ve had for 2 years and what it has taught me, you’re familiar with my struggle. Read more about it here.

What I haven’t gotten a chance to share is that due to the stress, both physically and emotionally that comes with chronic pain, I have developed other health issues as well in the last year.

It seems the more I’ve become confident in my knowledge about health and nutrition, the more health challenges have been thrown at me, as if the universe knows I can handle it now. 

Last fall, when I began coming completely in line with my goals, passion, and drive for my budding career in nutrition coaching, I woke up out of nowhere one morning with a protruded, bloated looking stomach that appeared like I was about 5 or 6 months pregnant. Since I was learning more about real food, what’s most nourishing for my body, and healthy habits around food like deep breathing before I eat, chewing well, and supportive supplements, I was actually at what I felt was my healthiest. So this didn't make sense to me really. I felt really good, I had more energy eating the way I was, I eliminated many inflammatory and gut-irritating foods, and I was pleased with my body composition (a new feeling to me, so I was thrilled.) I was also at this time starting to see that my pain was the catalyst for turning my mess into my message, so emotionally I had grown leaps and bounds. I had hope that I could heal and then all of a sudden something else popped up as a roadblock in my journey towards healing. Again, perhaps the universe saying, “You’re not there yet, there’s more for you to learn Chels.”

Needless to say I was confused and completely freaked out.

Because like I said, it happened essentially out of nowhere.

Oddly enough I had just lost a bit of weight, pulling inflammatory and processed foods completely, becoming more in tune with what my body wants, getting out and walking everyday, and working on myself emotionally, so it really didn’t make sense to me.

Since that day I have embarked on a tailspin of intensive research about every different type of digestive issue that could be going on, trying every different way of eating, primarily plant-based, a 3 month candida protocol, strict paleo, intuitive eating, you name it. Not to mention all of the supplements that could help.

I’ve literally turned my life around with self-care rituals, relaxation techniques, working through emotional issues, and still no way of eating, or lifestyle changes helped this protruded stomach. 

I’ve been really shy to share this part of myself, even though I’ve been SO open about everything else- my pain and my past with disordered eating, but for some reason I have felt really nervous to put this out there. I think I am embarrassed. Here I am someone who knows what to eat, how to nourish myself, and takes care of myself-and I guess I feel like if someone looks at my body in it’s current state, they’d assume I don’t know about any of those things. I promote body freedom, yet I myself still feel hung up on what my body looks like. That doesn’t feel good to admit, but this is just me being real and honest. It takes a while to get there, and that is definitely my journey.

What I have come to realize in a lot of time alone with my thoughts and the knowledge that I have around this topic, is that the protruded stomach has come from the stress I have been under with my back pain, and everything else that comes from living with pain-not being able to be active, be social, travel, relate to friends and family, and a lot of other things in my life due to dealing with pain. 

Like I’ve mentioned in my other blog post, I was so stressed and depressed over it in the beginning, that I didn’t want to live, and absolutely was not open to working with my body instead of against it. In the last year I have turned all of that around, however. Despite it all I feel so fortunate that all this has happened to me because it led me down the path to where I am now. I now know what I want to do with my life and have so many tools to relate to and help others. And for that I am unbelievable grateful. But, before I came into that mindset, for the first six months or so of my injury that turned into chronic pain- I was constantly crying, angry, and hopeless. And it’s no wonder that my body absolutely responded to that stress, right??

This summer I started working with a Functional Medicine Doctor. At this time although I was aware that stress could bring on exactly what I was going through... I still thought maybe there was something digestively going on instead. I needed some help figuring it out as I had exhausted all the other options on my own. She did ALL the tests with me and what I found was I was in a state of adrenal fatigue, hypothyroid, severely deficient in vitamin D, and had low levels of serotonin and GABA. No wonder I was having a hard time healing my back, having adequate energy, and feeling sad and down. NO WONDER!

I was so happy to actually get results, despite it being a lot. I basically realized that everything that has challenged me in the last few years had led me to this point. 

We also tested for all bacterial imbalances, digestive issues, parasites and all of the things that a stool test looks for. I was pleased to know I did not have candida, SIBO, or parasites. The issue actually was in the fact that I had no growth of a specific type of beneficial bacteria. I believe this stems for years and years of antibiotics use which wipe out the bad and good bacteria. Ugh, if only we were warned about this side-effect of antibiotics use. They were given out like candy to me in my life. This made sense to me, and my doctor put me on a very specific strain of probiotics. Soon my digestion was working really well. Like better then ever. I was super pleased about this. But yet, none of the stomach protruding went down. I didn’t feel bloated, I did not have gas, an upset stomach, indigestion, any of that-in fact I felt like I had healed all of that which I had been a part of my past. After all, I love digestive health, and I know the best ways to support it. My bowel movements were excellent. So again things didn’t really make sense to me. 

The next test we did was a food sensitivities test. I was pretty shocked when I saw it marked 27 different food sensitivities including a lot of random healthy foods like lettuce, spinach, asparagus, cabbage, cherries, and pineapple. Something that was a disappointment was eggs, and the hardest to avoid when eating out-black and white pepper. 

Restrictive eating is exactly the opposite of the message I preach and what I help my clients to heal from, but I have been putting myself on these restrictive protocols for the last year because I’m hoping to get these health issues under control. It’s contradictory, and I think why I’ve been embarrassed to share this detail of my life. In my past of restrictive eating, and the binge and purge cycle I couldn’t break free from, I know the way I respond to restriction and it isn’t positive. These types of diets have felt unnatural, yet I have been doing them-just so desperate to get better. I’m sure a lot of you out there can relate, and that is why I’m sharing. 

My doctor wanted me to pull all my food sensitives from my diet for three months to see if the inflammation in my stomach would go down. They weren’t things like wheat or dairy which I already happily removed from my diet based on my choice, but my favorite veggies like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and my favorite- coconut.

I was upset, and a little sad, but, like I had done a million times already, committed whole-heartedly to doing this, trusting I would feel better.

I started to get a hang of things, was cooking really delicious food, and feeling empowered. I thought, this is just another challenge I’m being given so I can better serve those I’ll help in the future. That made me feel good about what I was going through. I’ll know what it’s like to have to follow a restrictive diet for health purposes, like so many people out there. I felt pretty good for the first month and a half. But the problem was I wasn’t going out to eat, being social, or feeling the freedom to cook up whatever I wanted and that didn’t feel good. I was so hyper-focused about what I could eat that I was actually developing some food fears. I was starting to see the major way that this protocol was affecting me, and I wasn’t happy with that.

I crave balance, and a healthy relationship around food and my body, and this way of eating with all these “cant’s” was driving me crazy. 

I knew if I was my own client, with this mentality- I would have said- don’t do this. Since a lot of the things I’m sensitive to were hard to avoid at restaurants, I just felt “safer” eating at home. I was really tested when I traveled away for the weekend to a wedding, and was so nervous to eat something I “shouldn’t” that I spent hours prepping and cooking up a bunch of different meals and bringing them with me. Although this was a weight off my shoulders, and I actually think bringing some food with you is always a great idea…after months of restrictive eating- I just wanted to have fun and instead I felt really uncomfortable. I had so much mental noise about food that weekend. I stuck to eating all of my own food, and it was fine, but it set me up for wanting to rebel against my protocol when I got home that following week. After seeing all the yummy food everyone was eating at the wedding- I wanted it too. I wanted all the stuff I couldn’t have. I wanted to emotionally eat and overeat all of the things. I was having cravings, my usual food wasn’t sounding good, and I was beyond frustrated with my current circumstances. This is where my intuition really kicked in, and I knew this protocol wasn’t necessarily right for me!

I got back “on track” because I was aware of why I was feeling the way I was, and I was able to talk myself through it. I’m a dedicated person, and I wanted the stomach issues to resolve so even though my intuition said no, I got back on my protocol. Hmm. But, I had another wedding coming up. This one in Chicago for a whole week. Stressing about the trip and unable to sleep the two nights before we left…I cam to a conclusion. I decided while I was there, that I needed to just relax. After everything I was going through with my back, my stomach, and the hypothyroid diagnosis- it was just TOO MUCH. Who could stick to this!? I had also just launched my site and coaching services (so exciting!) and I was feeling fulfilled by starting to work with people.

I again thought about if I was my own client, what advice would I give myself? I was seeing no change in my stomach protruding and I've come to think I was probably making it worse, from stressing about my diet. 

When I was in Chicago I decided I was going to have fun, eat, have wine, and be with my friends without worrying about anything. I fully committed to this. And guess what, I had an amazing time! I didn’t go crazy, eating everything, but I ate the food that was at the wedding, and it felt totally fine! It was actually delicious! I know there were things I was sensitive to in the dishes, but because I didn’t stress about it, they didn’t bother me. I started to see that a lot of this was mental.

I was trying to heal so many things at once, that I wasn't leaving any room for enjoyment in my life. I wasn’t letting myself eat out every one in while, I didn’t want to do things socially, and my world just felt consumed with all my health issues. I am thankful for them because I have learned so much, but there comes a time where you have to remember that healing takes time, and you have to treat yourself with some compassion along the way or you’ll go nuts like I think I did.

Back to my point of this entire post...I realized when I left that doctors office a few days ago, with more information about my back injury and pain, that I am dealing with way too much.

My days aren’t filled with enough that makes me happy.

I’ve lost myself a little bit in being tied up in my health struggles, when I really just want to help other people, inspire, empower, and be there for them. I realized I need to cut myself a break. I think the issues are coming from worrying about what’s wrong with me and jumping into a restrictive and intense protocol month after month. I've realized this isn’t the answer. It may be what you need, we’re all different, we all have different health issues that require different paths, but I know what I need is to take a step back. 

I flew out here to Wyoming to remove myself from my day-to-day atmosphere in LA. Everyday was the same, managing pain, thinking too much about food, and it wasn’t serving me.

I wanted to get out of that cycle.

I’m also going to be working with someone on my back here, as I now know exactly what’s going on. I’m easing into reintroducing some of the foods I haven’t eaten for a few months, and getting out into the mountain air for walks. Which is so great. I think when you try to do everything right, it can sometimes have the opposite affect and you end up feeling worse- so over-consumed with getting better. My advice would be to always listen to you intuition, and cut yourself a break when you are trying to heal.

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