When your healthy habits are causing you harm

I have sat down a few times to write this post and have found it difficult to put into words how I am feeling.  I recently started seeing a functional medicine doctor to get to the bottom of a few things that have plagued me for a while.  Meeting with this doctor, we sat for two hours going over all my concerns and symptoms.  He sent me home with a huge list of tests to get done (stool samples, urine samples, blood work and a breath test).  I am so thankful for his desire to see the whole picture because it turns out some things I thought were “healthy”, were actually causing my body harm.

I decided to become a vegetarian when I was 17 years old.  At first it was just something I wanted to try, to see if I could.  It was also around that time that I started working out and being more conscious of my eating habits.  I lost some weight, got into better shape and was getting complimented on it so I figured I would stick with my new “healthy” lifestyle.  Soon after I left for college, The University of Vermont, where it was very easy to be a vegetarian.  There is a huge scene of pretty hippy people and the dining halls catered to that.  It was also a great way to keep myself from drunk late night food binges which usually consisted of burgers, breakfast sandwiches and pizza. 

I continued with my vegetarian lifestyle throughout my four years there, getting more and more strict with it.  It was during my last two years that I was also under a tremendous amount of stress.  I was studying dietetics which was kicking my ass and had a falling out with my best friend/roommate which made my living conditions extremely uncomfortable.  It seemed the only thing I had true control over was my diet and exercise.  I was super unhappy, basically depressed, and very stressed.  I told myself to just get through the last year of school and I would be ok.  All of this was taking a toll on my body, more than I even knew.  My weight suffered to the point where friends and family were concerned.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t eating, I was.  I had 3 full meals a day and lots of snacks in between.  The problem was my body was just on overdrive and I was pretty restrictive on what I allowed myself to eat, no cheat days.  I am 5 foot 10 and weighed 107 pounds, not good.

After college, I moved back home for the summer, taught sailing and was back with loved ones and in my happy place.  Things improved and I felt much better.  I decided to move to California to do a yoga teacher training.  I fell in love with LA and that is where I have been ever since.  I was still a vegetarian, still worked out a ton, probably a little too much, but I was happy.

Fast forward to now, to my follow up appointment to go over all my test results.  I met with Dr.Lekkos and he told me we had a lot of work to do.  The first thing he shared was that I am extremely deficient in all my B vitamins.  B vitamins are ones that need to be consumed daily and are found in beef, poultry and fish (things I was definitely not eating).  B vitamins are responsible for keeping our bodies running.  They help our bodies convert food into fuel, giving us the energy we need.  They also play an important role in immunity.  My levels were super low and that explained my fatigue and also why I was getting sick often.  He told me that my body isn’t efficiently using fat as a fuel and that my cell membranes are “rusted”.  Seeing the numbers on paper and how deficient I was really hit me hard.  Here I have been for the past 10 years thinking I was doing something amazing for my body.  I am not saying that a vegetarian diet is bad for everyone, some people can function well on one, but for me that clearly was not the case.  Since that appointment I have been slowly adding meat back into my diet.  I want to give my body the nutrients it needs to be healthy.

Another thing I learned from my test results was that my adrenal glands are fried.  The adrenal glands are active during stress, physical and emotional.  Long term stress causes these glandes to be overworked and they can’t keep up with the demands.  Dr. Lekkos said that my period of high stress in college and my continued intense workouts had flooded my body with cortisol, causing my adrenal fatigue.  This adrenal fatigue has since led to a slowing of my thyroid (slower metabolism and less ability for my body to successfully convert energy). 

It really upset me learning this.  My whole purpose, my brand is health and wellness.  To learn I have been negatively impacting myself made me feel like a failure.  There is so much pressure these days to look and act a certain way.  I had become so concerned with my body image that “junk food” and a rest day didn’t exist for me.  I have been pushing myself too hard, over training and also not giving my body the nutrients it needs to keep up.  This has been a huge eye opening experience for me.  It is now more important than ever to practice what I preach, balance.  I need a balanced diet.  I need more protein. I need more meat. I need more healthy fats.  I need to learn to workout smarter, not harder.  Instead of doing multiple workouts a day, I need to learn to do more efficient workouts that make me feel great and are good for my body.

I am not a lost cause, Dr.Lekkos assured me that with the proper diet and supplements I can repair my body.  It is important to me to do what is necessary to get back on track.  Derek and I want to have kids soon and my body needs to be functioning properly for that to happen.  This is also a huge lesson in self-love.  I need to be easier on myself.  I need to give myself rest days, I need to give myself overindulgent days.  I need to live life and be happy and confident in myself.  Not everything we do is good for us.  It is easy to get trapped into a mindset that your restrictions are healthy.  Balance is the key to life.  It took really harming my body to learn this and it is a lesson I am taking to heart.