Introducing naturopathy into my life
The summer of my second year in grad school, I was feeling consistently tired and dysfunctional. At first, I thought it was because of a concussion I got from a bike fall 8 months earlier. That really did affect my energy levels for a while but I completely recovered thanks to acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine herbal blends. This is a whole different story but after 9 visits to Dr. Tran during my Christmas break in Montreal, I was almost back to normal. Anyway, the nagging feeling of exhaustion, sleepiness and overall lethargy stuck with me well after my bike fall. The only thing that would make this sensation temporarily go away was a dose of sugar (desserts) and coffee, both of which I tended to consume together (coffee and a pastry go so well together). Then, I would feel alive and productive and I’d be able to get some work done before crashing again and feeling sleepy. I had 4 papers to write that summer so I think I went a little hard on the coffee and the sugar to deliver on my deadlines. By the end of that summer, I was beat and I was desperate to find a solution. I tried self-diagnosing. I thought it must be adrenal fatigue — maybe I was just burnt out? My second year was really tough to say the least (I had a bike accident, I had a ton of work to catch up on…). I didn’t really know how to restore my adrenals and I thought maybe a visit to my local health store would help. (Little did I know back then that to find adrenal balance involves sooo much more work and awareness than just popping a couple of herbal capsules).
I spent some time at the Bioterre in Mile-End (I was in Montreal for the summer) asking about what can help me feel energized again. I remember telling the sales associate that the biggest trouble I had was trouble concentrating. I was a little distressed at that point. I’m in grad school, I need a functional and sharp brain to succeed and I felt the farthest away from that. The universe must have been looking out for me because the sales associate turned out to be a naturopath who happened to be subbing the regular associate that day. Marie-Josee has her own office where she does full-on health assessments with her clients to help reset them for a healthier lifestyle. We chatted for a while and I was captivated by her talk of achieving a holistic lifestyle, adjusting our rhythms to the natural waxing and waning cycles of the seasons. We also discovered a shared interest in Tarot. I was really intrigued by the work she was doing — I had never heard of a naturopath before. I considered making an appointment with her even though I was leaving back to Baltimore a few days later. I was fascinated but I wasn’t sure if working with a professional was worth it? I know that’s how a lot of people feel when working with a health coach, but looking back, it can confirm that being guided by a professional is deeply life-changing and sooooo worth it.
I went home with a nagging whisper in my ear telling me to jump right in. I had a problem and I needed someone qualified to help me fix it. Looking back, I’m proud of myself for having paid attention, for noticing that something was off. It wasn’t normal for me to feel chronically lethargic and seriously dependent on caffeine and sugar. But it really took the help of a professional to help me understand the root cause of my symptoms and find effective ways to feel better.
This is where weening-off sugar, gluten, coffee come into play
I have a special post on sugar that you can read here.
Right away, Marie-Josée told me that my symptoms sounded like a gluten intolerance. I left our first meeting with homework: cut the gluten out completely. It was a bit daunting but I was all in so I tried it. Friends, I was absolutely experiencing the symptoms of a gluten intolerance because as soon as I eliminated gluten entirely, it was like the cloud had been lifted. I was sleeping better, waking up feeling refreshed in the morning, and my energy levels went from a 4/10 to a 7. I couldn’t believe that it was this easy. I just needed to eliminate the thing that my body was having trouble digesting — this is what an intolerance means. It’s not like an allergy insofar as your body doesn’t outright reject the substance. For example, I’m allergic to sesame because my throat itches and swells up whenever I accidentally ingest it (which happened a lot in my Arabic household). An intolerance is harder to notice because you won’t get hives, itchy, or swollen from what you eat. An intolerance means that your body struggles digesting something, which causes a bit of a system slow-down. It’s almost like if your internet is slow and dysfunctional because your router is behind a thick wall. The thick wall is the thing your body really doesn’t enjoy digesting. So you’re better off cutting it out completely and you’ll see that your body, all of sudden, can do its job a lot better. I went through a pretty rigorous process of elimination before settling into something that works for me and I have friends around me who have tried eliminating stuff or are going through the process now. I can write more about that in another post. Ultimately, I think it’s great to take a step back and evaluate: how do I feel? If I’m not feeling my best, is there something in what I’m eating that might be behind the sluggishness, inflammation, lethargy, etc.?
Another really amazing thing that happened as a side effect of cutting gluten out: I wasn’t craving coffee anymore. I just started to forget to drink it because I was feeling naturally energized. I really love coffee so I thought that maybe I could continue to have it once in a while as a treat? Well, I was wrong. As soon as I stopped drinking coffee regularly, my body adjusted to a caffeine-free state such that whenever I occasionally ordered a cappuccino, I would get the jitters and feel so anxious. It would take hours for me to leave that heightened state. I had to mourn it for a while, but I realized that my body just couldn’t tolerate coffee anymore. Ultimately it’s for the better, of course.
Follow up on why I cut sugar from my diet here!