But not so quick.
Can't get cocky about it.
Recently I had some hiccups in the progress, and a lot of time for more self-introspection, which also made me think more deeply about what I'll talk about in this post.
First, the latest with me.
I'm still on this rollercoaster solving gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and building a healthy gut that was pretty wrecked. This is something I've mentioned but not written about in as much detail yet. In brief: I've diagnosed and successfully killed off (some) candida, an H. Pylori infection, etc, and generally I am not walking around like a bloated gassy balloon wretched in lower abdominal pain on the daily. It's not all done though. We are working on the rest including testing more specifically for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and more investigation regarding the candida, which is a fungal infection, and whether its worked its way deeper into my tissues--we think this based on some symptoms. Furthermore we'll be entering the rebuilding phase to create a strong, robust GI tract. Meanwhile, additional diet tweaks and the right kind of eating for my situation have been integral to relief and recovery. However, ironically, often certain diet tweaks aren't optimal for hormonal health (for example, intermittent fasting = good for the GI tract, bad for hormonal status). It's quite the paradox.
Speaking of hormones. Starting in 2014, during my quest to regain health, I earned back a regular period and stellar hormonal status that I maintained even through marathon training, a BQ, and after. I regained this all naturally with damn hard work, a lot of love and TLC and holistic-style supplementation--coming off years of depletion, amenorrhea and poor interventions such as ongoing bouts with birth control before wising up and using the functional model.
But after so much progress my period packed up and left after this August. I know why. Looking back there was a shift. Not just the GI issues and diet, although, that was related. I allowed more stress back in my life, increased the training, and overall was not managing myself as well--getting too cocky that I was bulletproof--and slipping back to old ways like operating too much in a sympathetic state (aka flight or fight mode).
Had a "self-intervention," chilled out, (oh and got the flu = forced recovery) and, guess what, this December my period came back. All it took was some rest, recovery, and diet-wise increasing variety of carbs and even more nourishing fats. Carbs: things like white rice, long-fermented sourdough, and GF oatmeal. Fats: daily bone broth, and more of everything else.
But let me stop right there, save the back report for another post, and instead get to the point of this one:
Why does someone who's so healthy have health problems?
Many of us run around thinking we feel great, but in reality we're operating sub-optimally--our definition of "great" is very skewed. We could be better. The health experts realized this in their own journeys and have dedicated their life to helping others feel great.
Tim Noakes for example. Mark Sisson. Or functional health practitioner Brie Wieselman, with whom I recently started collaborating--she too struggled with health which you can read about here. Or Dr. Michael Ruscio (my new man crush) who contracted an amoeba--as did Chris Kresser--both these guys fixed themselves with the functional approach. And there's Chris Kelly, Jimmy Moore, the list goes on. Sometimes the professional is already a well-respected expert but is still on the path to healing and solving his/her own issues such as Stephanie Ruper of the Paleo Women podcast who says she was amenorrheic for four years while writing her book, "Sexy By Nature." Stephanie had already established herself as a leading lady for women's health in the Paleosphere, giving women's health advice on her website, etc. She fixed herself using probably a lot of the same tools she learned and recommends to others. Does it matter that she was still partially broken while working as an expert on this stuff? Not in the least, probably made her a better expert i'd argue.
Bottom line, all these folks operate in the health space after having crashed themselves for whatever reason and so they really understand healing from the bottom up. Most importantly they know that healthy living--the way some would consider extreme--is key to feeling great and avoiding setbacks. If you know what it's like to have a disorder-ridden, dysfunctioning, shitty-feeling body and mind, you don't want a setback...
I am no different than this.
I was operating sub-optimally for years--actually doing quite well in that state, all things considered. Why was I sub-optimal? Certainly a lot of it was my own fault. From an eating disorder, to triathlon madness, to generally just carrying a lot of stress, I'm sure I created a good chunk of my health issues. I recognized it. I owned it. If you've been following me and this blog for a period of time you know that my dedication to health now is to overcome the "damage" done in my teens and 20s. I also won't rule out potential genetic components as well. Nature, nurture; it is what it is. I can't wake up with a clean slate and start over. That's ok! I accept that my hormones are sensitive and it's on me to promote an environment in which I can thrive--not only me but for my future family.
Speaking to what it's like to go from sub-optimal to optimal: my GI disorders for example. For nearly 10 years I was running around with these gut issues not understanding fully that they were severe problems and could be fixed! I can't even tell you how many times I've been plagued with embarrassing, painful gas; bloating to the point where I seriously wondered if I might be pregnant; and poop issues. Not to mention how the gut issues affected my mind. They often made me feel fat--when I wasn't at all--and irritable to the point of straight up bitchiness. I just thought all this was normal. Boy, was I wrong. You get some relief and you're, like "Holy shit! This is awesome! I want to feel like this always." And while it may seem like I'm still having all these problems, the reality is that it's just a long road to recovery given the long history, complete with hiccups and setbacks along the way. But the healthier and more in-tune I have become, the more I understand, the better I get, and the greater I feel. Why would I want anything else?
And don't get me wrong, I don't have unrealistic expectations that I need to feel the best ever every day for the rest of my life, eat perfectly every single day, or freak out if something is off. Nor am I turning this into another type of unhealthy obsession over achieving some level of unrealistic health. It's actually pure intentions for once. No eating disorder, no mental hangups--just the desire to learn and implement what that takes to feel great then turn it into a story and an education for others on how to do the same! Yup, part of the current journey is the growing passion toward this field of functional health and wellness. I the past couple years I've empowered myself with knowledge on how to heal from the inside out, who knows you may see a new angle for my career and scope of practice budding.
Bottom line: Being healthy is a no-brainer when you consider the alternative--feeling like shit.
Does being too healthy cause health problems?
Ohhh this is a good question.
Inherently, no. But hell yes, it can!
If the person's definition of health is skewed and not doing him or her any good, this could worsen and/or create problems, i.e. a vegan who's severely deficient in key nutrients and dysfunctioning; the obsessed runner who's scary thin and battling stress fractures left and right; the endurance athlete who goes too low carb while also doing crossfit style workouts on the side and HPA axis crashes. "But, vegan is clean!" "But, exercise is healthy." No, not in this context.
Or, too healthy can cause health problems if during the quest to be healthy one gets overly neurotic about every. little. thing. The stress state one can create over this quest for health is undeniably counterproductive and could worsen, prolong or create health problems--even the cleanest diet won't fix a person who's freaking out over every morsel of food, every germ, every sensation, every decision. When the quest to be healthy destroys your relationships and social life, when it keeps you up at night in worry, when you panic over food, anxiety over your condition(s); when you stop having fun, when you stop smiling, when there's no act of "playing" in your life, etc.... Dr. Ruscico talks about this a lot in how he treats patients--we need to care about health but not go off the deep end, so to speak. And I talked about this in my anorexia vs orthorexia post--i.e. healthy eating is good until it goes too far becoming a sick obsession. I've been down that road. Over it... I'm sure even the health experts have to watch themselves and not get trapped in a bubble of trying to be perfect, and thankfully I hear more of this being discussed in podcasts and written about in articles--living a life balance, seeking happiness, and having a healthy mindset is just as important if not more than what your blood test or whatever test results show!!!
So then you implement healthy practices to avoid health problems:
Part of my journey to optimal health and healing is learning to not be neurotic about things---because I know I can be that person looking at my history :). I still have to work at managing my stress, my tendencies to want to over-obsess and get neurotic, and I have to work to consciously turning on the parasympathetic (aka rest and digest mode) more often so it becomes habit and feels normal. I have to work at being present and mindful. I've taught myself to not look at my life as being too busy; I've let go of relentless and mindless multitasking; I've worked on just being lazy and doing little things that simply make me happy and smile. This often requires another level of self-discipline, for example avoiding overtraining even though all I wanna do is just run run run, going on that walk when I know its needed. Or avoiding letting a jam-packed schedule, traffic, long lines, etc, send me off into a state of anxiety and panic. Just stop and smell the flowers, really! See how it feels. Scary at first, and then scary good...
Achieving this mindset requires, of all things, another level of self-awareness. Meaning you have to know what it feels like when you're in an elevated sympathetic (stress) state vs. a more mellow parasympathetic (chill made) state. HRV is good for this. Many of us think we're chill but really, we're not--we're stressed. When we measure HRV we may be in for a shocker. Reality hits. I've heard Dave Asprey discuss this and I've even seen my fiance go through the process. "Whoa, I thought I was fine but the numbers clearly say otherwise." All it takes is a little tool like HRV to recognize the difference. But then you have to do something about it! Understand the feelings and what real stress feels like, and make changes as needed, if needed.
And at the end of the day if you don't want to be all biohacker about it, just know that you need to keep it real and loosen up. Your quest to be healthy doesn't have to be all uptight. And if you derail from healthy norms for a day or even a week it's ok! Just get back on track no drama.
Can you create food intolerances?
This is another one I hear a lot. Let's assume someone gets the bug up their butt to adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle, and let's assume this person is pretty healthy to begin with--no history like mine or the others mentioned. Say they give up gluten, dairy, sugar, grains and whatnot to adopt more of a paleo-ish clean diet. Not low carb or high carb per se, just a clean diet. Will this person cause food sensitivities and/or intolerances by eating more healthy? For example, if they give up gluten and dairy then go back to eating those things will they suffer the consequences?
I do think that clean eating and healthy living does make you more sensitive to the lower quality food and drinks for a couple reasons:
1) You become more intuitive and realize how quality food and healthy living actually makes you feel awesome!!! Even if you're not necessarily intolerant, clean eating makes you feel superhuman.
2) Or maybe you were intolerant and didn't realize it until you quit the trigger foods and drinks. You were operating at a 5, now you're feeling like a 10. Our food today--gluten, dairy, sugar and whatnot--is not what it once was and it often makes us ill, have allergies, etc. So you go off it, you get healthier. Then you slip up and go back to old ways for days in a row and find yourself wheezing, bloated and with brain fog. Well, this basically is showing you had detoxed from the "poison" and going back on it triggered those same sensitives you once thought were normal. Then the light bulb goes on. You were always intolerant, just never realized it. It doesn't mean you can't occasionally "cheat"--it's usually a dose thing. Just know your limit. Barring a full-on disease like celiac or nut allergy, a little moderation is fine.
Can healthful intentions backfire on health and hormones?
This is a rabbit hole. In fact, very soon I will be recording a podcast on the dangers of low-carb/keto eating for athletes and women, as well as things like falling victim to the female athlete triad (males included), because it's important to address: yes you can screw shit up with the wrong approach to diet and exercise. It's actually really easy to do. Too easy. Don't do it. We'll save this talk for another day.
We all have our shit.
Generally, it seems like the health experts/pros--at least the ones I follow--are much more willing to openly talk about and discuss their issues, and what they've learned, in hopes they can help, inspire, and educate others on building better health and optimal living. Power to the folks who are brave enough to open up and empower us to be proactive. Even more power to them when they admit mistakes, sensitive stuff, and such. You all inspire me to do the same.... It's always going to be an ongoing quest, the best we can do is share information and foster a supportive environment.
Just remember: Have that set of checks and balances in place to avoid letting healthy intentions backfire.