Update on Health | Autoimmune, Allergies, Food Sensitivities
I’ve resisted sharing any of this for a long, long time. I’ve tried to be really sensitive about what I share through social media, since I’m not interested in sharing the uninteresting, not so happy things that go on, as they do, and I don’t want to contribute to the negativity that already plagues the world’s media. Instead of letting myself believe that what I’m going to share is something negative or better kept secret, I’m believing that we go-and-get through the hard times in order to help others get through theirs and that this part of my life will encourage someone else. After all, we never see the bigger picture all at once.
The last (and final) time I prepped for a fitness competition, in 2013, I was overcommitted to projects and stretched thin between my own training, running a business, teaching boot camps, training clients, shoot days, hobbies, lack of sleep, and the realities of everyday life. I didn’t realize that I was slowly becoming less and less present and available for who and what mattered the most to me over that and the following year, or the repercussions that would come from it.
A few months into preparing for that show, I noticed a small, dime size patch of dry skin near my right elbow that slowly grew in size and began to lose pigment over the next month. I hadn’t had any skin issues prior to, and convinced myself it was either from one of the twenty-some mosquito bites I’d gotten from being outside at a barbeque earlier in the year, or that I’d caught something funky from sharing wardrobes on sets or dirty work out equipment. After seeing a doctor to rule out anything like ringworm or another fungus I could easily have contracted from a gym, and being encouraged that I was ‘young’, ‘healthy’ and probably just had sensitive skin, I went on with the same routine, including self-induced stress over what and when I was eating and how often I was working out. If I missed a meal or a workout, I silently beat myself up and worried that I wasn’t doing what I needed to do in order to achieve the kind of changed physique I wanted. All the tell-tale-signs of overtraining and self-image issues rising up; the kind that I’d been teaching how to overcome and resist for years. I thought because I knew better, I could handle a season of overtraining and being extra particular about my physique and easily bounce back, because, well, I was supposed to know better, and I’d already overcome that years ago. I convinced myself I’d push through the next few months and then get back to my balanced groove after the contest.
The contest came and went that August. I placed first in both the novice and open divisions and ended up winning the overall. I hadn’t even considered winning being the goal- I just wanted my physique to look like I had put in months of extra hard work; but walking away the overall champion triggered my passion for the bodybuilding industry and a desire to dive back into it.
Being blinded by an unthoughtful decision to map out the next contests to enter, I hadn’t realized that the patch of skin that had become dry and pale on my right arm, was now accompanied by another patch on my left arm, in the same location. Not just there, but also on both sides along my ribcage. Because my doctor was so sure it was nothing to be concerned about, I ignored how odd it was to be having these kinds of skin issues.
Over the next several months, I continued to secretly obsess over preparing for the next show, and would only schedule my commitments to work with my meal timing and workouts. This turned into backing out from commitments because I began feeling exhausted and lethargic even after 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. The amount of time I spent sleeping was ridiculous; I would nap any chance I could, and could hardly get out of bed in the mornings. Feeling tired led to neglecting who and what mattered most, but ‘at least I was on track for the next show’. The patches on my skin worsened, became inflamed and itchy. They would heal after weeks, but not without leaving pigment-less sections of skin, then return a week or so later, repeating the same cycle. My brain and body were basically begging me to back off the overkill on everything.
My moods hadn’t changed, and I felt fine aside from the perpetual exhaustion. I convinced myself that I’d see a dermatologist and continue on with my plan to compete at the end of the year, and that being tired was simply a bi-product of my training schedule increasing.
I met with a new dermatologist, recommended by my primary care physician through Kaiser, and she attributed the rashy patches to ‘adult eczema’, and assured me it was very common and something I’d just have to manage for life. She prescribed a steroidal topical treatment plan and I followed it for weeks. The patches calmed down, but no faster or better than they had previously on their own. They returned after a few weeks, but had worsened significantly, and new patches started popping up in places like the back of my right hand and the base of my neck. Small itchy bumps started surfacing in random places like the palms of my hand, and fingers. I could tell something was wrong with how my body was reacting, and didn’t buy it as coincidence that the only thing that changed was using steroidal treatment. I decided to stop using the steroidal treatments, and scheduled an appointment with whatever primary could see me the soonest to try and sort out what was really going on. I was now convinced that there was a serious autoimmune reaction happening and I wanted to pinpoint why. The doctor who saw me seemed blatantly uninterested in my self-diagnosis of there being a root cause, likely food related or possibly from stress hormones brought on by overtraining. I shared that as a child, I went through quite a bit of allergy testing and was told I was allergic to soy, wheat, corn, dairy and anything that had fur, dust, and pollen, but in late elementary school made an agreement with my parents that I could reintroduce foods I wanted, and continue eating them so long as I didn’t have any reactions, not to mention I was constantly around my horses, and avoiding pollen and dust wasn’t ever going to happen. I had since eaten anything I’d wanted and hadn’t had any noticeable reactions at all, and had seemingly outgrown any aversions I’d had to corn, soy, wheat, dairy and horses. I asked if he thought I was back to having allergic reactions relative to any of those things, but he wasn’t in any kind of agreement and said there was no correlation from food to things like eczema and that because I wasn’t having any serious digestive issues, painful joint issues, etc, that I wasn’t having autoimmune problems. He suggested I stick to what was prescribed by the dermatologist, but if it made me feel better would have me do a full blood work up to be sure I wasn’t Celiac or having other issues foreseeable by standard blood panels.
I left that appointment so frustrated and discouraged. Within a few days I was sent my lab results. Everything looked good and I didn’t test positive for Celiac. My frustration grew and I announced that I was no longer going to be competing, finally realizing that what I was doing was not going to help my body heal, and quietly broke down, wondering why I was so drawn to a hobby and industry I had walked away from years ago. I began to address how overly sexualized the fitness industry has become, especially the ‘bikini division’ in the world of competitions and what it represented, or at least promoted, and slowly found myself in a serious funk. I’d be surprised if anyone knew I was as unhappy as I had become. I was grateful for life, the people in it, and madly in love with my husband, but I was becoming apathetic about my image (I’m already a ponytail, t-shirt kind of gal as it is) and obsessive about finding the why for the health issues I was experiencing. I started eliminating gluten, even though I didn’t test positive for Celiac disease, but knowing from experience with nutrition clients and research that gluten is a vastly common culprit for health issues, not to mention I was deemed so allergic to it as a child. For 7 months I was meticulously gluten free. I was the friend who wasn’t fun to go out to eat with, because I had to ask the server at the restaurant if they had a dedicated gluten free area they prepared food on, in lieu of avoiding any cross-contamination, since food sensitivities and intolerances can happen at the tiniest molecular level. I had to scour every label on every food and personal care item we purchased, reminiscent of being the 5-year old in a grocery store asking her parents or grandma to see the label to be sure it didn’t have wheat, corn or even soy lecithin. Since I wasn’t sure what I might have aversions to or should avoid, I was driving myself crazy searching for answers. The rash on my skin continued to worsen and I was too self-conscious to wear anything but long sleeve shirts that covered the patches under my elbows. For those who follow my YouTube videos and social media accounts, I’m sure there was a noticeable change in my choices of wardrobe, or the photos I would take. We stopped going to the beach because the patches on each side of my rib cage were constantly inflamed and had become unpigmented, and I refused to be in a swimsuit. I started feeling insecure that my husband would see me as less beautiful. Dry patches began to develop on the inner corners of my eyelids, and they soon became constantly dry and inflamed. I was turned down from several commercial jobs for having ‘bad skin’. My eating habits became sloppy and my body fat increased significantly. I continued to hide in oversized shirts. I continued getting booked for fitness and workout shoots, but caught wind that some in the industry were hurtfully critical about my modest weight gain. After that, I backed off from pursuing opportunities or committing to fitness related work and the next two years were spent in trial and error of finding what worsened or helped the skin issues and exhaustion. It was in 2015 that I’d slowly made it back to intentional eating and working out just 3 days each week, bringing my body fat down to a range I was more confident with, but still not as lean as I had been for years prior. I was no longer perpetually tired, but there had been no improvements in my skin and my energy wasn’t as consistent as it had been previous to 2013. Something was still wrong, and from experience with my insurance-covered doctors, I was on my own in finding the why to what was happening if I wasn’t going to accept this onset of ‘adult eczema’ being something I’m just going to have to live with, forever.
I continued more trial and error choices in my diet through 2016, and the patches had finally healed (most of the pigment, included) on the sides of my ribcage and forearms, but new areas were popping up, my ring finger was having reactions
and my wrist was flaring up, not to mention my eyelids were still going through bouts of being dry and inflamed. By the time I was in Greece last Fall, I had two large patches of diminishing pigment on the front of my shins, which has worsened since and is now almost pigment-less, and I’ve acquired a small heart shaped patch on my collarbone and upper back that looks like a white birthmark. Although I’d started to become somewhat apathetic about whatever condition I have going on, something in me was still resolved to find answers.
I’d been a fan of functional medicine for years, because I respect the shared appreciation for preventative health care and looking at lifestyle and nutrition for answers to health and wellbeing, since that is ultimately the heart behind what I do. Because I hadn’t had any knowing reason to be seen by a doctor until this debacle, I hadn’t found anyone to work with, so set out to find someone in my area to see. Eventually, after a referral from a close girlfriend whose opinion I trust, I met with a functional doctor in the Los Angeles area who agreed that it was important to find out what was really going on and why. I kicked myself for not pursuing someone outside of our insurance network for this long and look forward to working with someone who shares the same sentiment for preventative health care and nutrition as I do.
Currently, from the small amount of testing we’ve done, we know that I was definitely having reactions to the same things that I’d been allergic to as a child, even though all those years, I had never had any ‘noticeable’ reactions. Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs), gluten, soy and almonds are highest on my list to avoid and are very likely some of the primary culprits for the issues I’ve been experiencing over the last 3 and a half years. Making the necessary adjustments to my day to day diet isn’t a big deal, and although there are some people who would balk and cringe at the idea of avoiding dairy and gluten, it isn’t nearly as difficult as they think- it just requires diligence and a willingness to commit to the changes that make a difference. So, as of late February 2017, you can bet I’ll be paying extra close attention to how my body responds to no longer eating the foods that I’m having sensitivities and allergies to, and hopefully being free of the symptoms I’ve been having. And, although the little white heart shaped spot on my collarbone has kind of grown on me, I’d be more than happy for the pigment on my shins and the other areas of my body to come back.
Well, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably interested to know what happens from here! So am I, and as we continue to get answers, I’ll share them here in hopes that it will encourage and help someone like yourself or someone you know, or at least, be interesting enough to keep up with!
I’d love to hear from you, so please use the comments section for dialogue – keep it positive!