Okay. I know this section has been under construction for some time now, and you’ve all been waiting breathlessly to hear bits and pieces of my personal life. Well, to be honest I haven’t had a gut feeling about writing it until today. Why today? Well it seems I can hover over the past three years and see purpose and a plan.
I’m sitting in the back seat of our car heading to one of the oldest Black Forest traditions with my best friend and husband, Lutz, and a good friend and colleague, Mike. We’re off to see a Narrentreffen. This is the time of year small villages come together to chase out winter. Each village is represented in a parade wearing detailed carved masks and intricate costumes. This one will be the Hexen Umzug, or Witches Parade. There is singing, great food, drink and unique bands with various instruments; all in the name of chasing away winter and bringing better times. I’m always amazed to see the passion with which they celebrate their schwaebisch alemannische Fastnacht. I think it’s time I share the end of my three-year winter and celebrate better times ahead.
Living the life of a beach bum was inevitable since my father was a lifeguard for the city of Los Angeles. My memories of growing up on John Street in Manhattan Beach, California were filled with joy, excitement and adventures; until my world, as I knew it, fell apart when we moved to Del Mar, California. My father was offered the position as Captain of the lifeguards and we started the slow migration to the small deserted stretch of beach in 1963. At twelve years old, this seemed like the end of my life. Remember, I’m writing with clear hindsight now, ok somewhat clearer… Little did I know this would be the beginning of a new journey and give a bit more clarity to many of the events that led me to this new cooking adventure.
My family always was on the move, we camped in every state beach along the California coast during my years in Del Mar. Escapades to Mexico along the coast for family vacations. Always out doors, swimming, walking, hiking, sardines and saltines, green apples and sucking on rocks when we were thirsty. A vacation was not a vacation unless there was water for fishing or swimming. And every spot was better than the last. If it were up to my dad, every new town or city would have been the best place for a hamburger stand.
Healthy living was woven into my family’s life. Mind you, we did have our donuts, ice cream and occasional sweet supplies, but for the most part, trail mix was the highlight of our lunches. My mother was my inspiration for being a creative cook. I recall many days walking in from school smelling something cooking. Often, it was liver disguised as spaghetti or lasagna. One way or another we were forced to enjoy it. It wasn’t until we moved from Manhattan Beach to Del Mar that my mother uncovered my dislike for her attempt to feed me this protein. Behind the refrigerator were collections of wadded up napkins filled with liver jerky. This was my monument to her failure to successfully pass it off as food.
Not only were we a generally nutrition focused family, but we were also a physically active family. If we weren’t at the beach you’d find us hiking, playing volleyball, going to team sports or riding bikes from one beach town to the next all the way north to Leucadia. My older sister, Melissa, and younger brother, Boe surfed while I took a beating with body surfing, racing my dad for the biggest wave and longest ride. Or, I could be found chasing my younger sister Meredith down the beach, or rescuing her from the waste high tides while my mom lounged in her chair, dozing or reading on and on and on.
Yes, this move was a trauma but seas were calmed after friends were made, and life slowly regained the momentum to embrace change. It was at this point I began to struggle with my weight and failure to maintain weight loss. Daily, I woke to this private, yet public battle and entering into extreme diets in hopes to remedy my situation. My dearest friend Jennifer became my confidant and together we would experiment with every new fad. No matter how hard we tried, the extra pounds followed us like a stray puppy. In collage we even tried the candy bar diet for dinner. Or, ice cream lunch. We tried them all.
One event in my life that took its toll on my health was our family trip to Isle de Mujares in Mexico. I was the first person in the USA to ever come down with Shigella Ameba Dysentery. I happened to eat the last shrimp cocktail of a beach vender. That was all it took. Sure, visiting Mexico two or three times a month was guarantee to win the toilet award, but this was different. Over a period of three days I was delirious and lost my entire stomach lining; and yes, all my good bacteria. The quote “today is a good day to die” (there are several references to where this came from but I tend to support the definition written by Taatoka Lee Standing Bear Moore, manataka.org). The pain was unbelievable. I felt like I was being eaten alive from the inside out. Finally, my second trip to Scripts Hospital provided another downpour of harm to my gut, heavy doses of antibiotics. The one blessing was a week of endless sleep. At seventeen years old my knowledge and understanding of healing my gut was not part of my arsenal.
Over the next 40 years I continued to practice somewhat healthy living, exercising and managing my life while raising two children, obtaining a B.A. in Early Childhood/Psychology, M.A. in Education and a Ph.D. in Elementary Ed and Curriculum Program Design. Then I topped this off with a divorce after twenty-three years of marriage. Not until reading how stress contributes to gut challenges did I realize the damage I had perpetuated. Why not add another one, I applied for a position with the department of defense as a teacher and within two months my house was packed and I was on a plane to a country I had only read about in history class and dreamed about going. No friends, no home, no idea what lay ahead. The loss of my family and friends plus the hole in my heart for my children left me sad and depressed many evenings. But as I learned earlier in life, after friends were made and life slowly regained a momentum to embrace change. I too changed.
I continued with my routine of nutrition and embraced a new fad I picked up at the age of thirty: not eating red meat. I even played with the vegetarian lifestyle, following after my big sister. Still, my weight followed me. In addition, other physical changes started to appear. Sinus infections and colds that lasted months, hair thinning; yes, even mine. You who know me wonder, “Is that possible?” My nails never grew, I slept hours and hours, and I was always tired. My feet and hands were so cold Lutz thought I’d put them in the freezer on purpose. I wore sweat pants and socks to bed…so romantic. The biggest life-changing event came when I received my annual sinus infection in September; it lasted until January––even with 8 different antibiotics. I began having chest pains and could not swallow. Lots of digestive and indigestion problems. I finally went to have a through physical examine. This is when my German doctor located cyst on my thyroid glands.
After testing, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. And so, I was propelled into research. This time, I was educating myself for a change. As most of us do, we followed our doctor’s orders, and I was no different. I’d come in every three months to check levels and obediently take the increased doses. You know when it is time to find a new doctor when you know more than they do! Lol. So, from my research, I investigated compound thyroid medication and took an odd path to find the doctor that has been so influential to my journey. I contacted two compounded pharmacies in Germany. One pharmacy was located in Munich and the other in Frankfurt. The one in Frankfurt actually wrote me back when I asked them if they knew of a doctor that had used their company to prescribe thyroid medication. Sure enough, there was one right around the corner from me.
Long story short, she advised me to go to an immune doctor who promptly diagnosed me with vacuities which is a very serious disease that affects the small veins and blood flow causing damage to the kidneys and liver. I visited a kidney doctor, a rheumatoid doctor, a heart doctor, a lung doctor and than back to her office after six months of believing I had this debilitating disease to hear her announce that I did not have it. She gladly conducted a list of blood work I obtained from a functional doctor in San Diego. With these results, she managed my doses. After reaching levels of 175mg of compound thyroid medication, she strongly recommended, for the second time, that I stop eating gluten, soy and dairy. My cholesterol was down from 320 to 280 and I was taking 20mg a day to manage this problem. At the same time, I visited a new acupuncturist and massage therapist. Who gently led me and supported my change by introducing me to the book Wahl’s Protocol. It sunk in, finally. I have no idea where the hell I was during Biology 101. Probably in the office, since I was kicked out of class way too often during high school (apparently, my teachers and I did not share the same sense of humor).
Since February 2015 I have been gluten, soy and dairy free. On my first checkup, my thyroid medication was cut in half. During this same visit my doctor placed me on red rice from Europe. Three months later and fifteen pounds lighter, my thyroid medication was cut in half again. I now take 50mg of thyroid medication and have brought my cholesterol down to 187. I am feeling better than ever.
So, it is today that I am reminded of my long three-year winter. Winter is inevitable, but now I know how to chase it away. I look forward to better times. My dreams of cooking in a restaurant or opening a B&B have been fulfilled in sharing my journey and cooking with others. Hey, what do you have to lose? Really? Anyone who is struggling with an inflammatory situation needs to start investigating and find a doctor that is up to date with research, one who will support you. The Internet is filled with wonderful resources. Check out Izabella Wentz PharmD Dr. or Mark Hyman MD on line. They provide new research and resources to help you on your new journey. Chase your winter away!