Birth Blog

This Is Why What We Eat Matters

by Julia West on June 16, 2015

During the second week of Birth Boot Camp classes, we discuss nutrition. We talk about the benefits of nourishing our bodies and our babies well, then each week we really emphasize the importance of healthy habits. And I have to admit, until a couple of years ago, I really didn’t believe it mattered.

For most of my life, I have been more healthy than I have tried to be. I was an athlete during middle and high school, but I didn’t notice much change in my health or weight during the time I worked out regularly and the times I didn’t. My husband, Trevor, had a typical childhood and teenage years- super fast metabolism, energy for days. We considered ourselves lucky that we did not have to worry about dietary restrictions. We bought a lot of cheap pasta, quick meals and soda in our early married years.

When I became pregnant the first time, my midwife started really encouraging me to keep track of what I eat. I learned more about the importance of staying well-hydrated and avoiding junk. I still did not eat a lot of good things, but I made changes to phase out a lot of foods that have no nutritional value. I had the motivation of not gaining excessive weight and staying low risk, but I still did not understand that healthy eating has as much to do with what we DO eat as what we DO NOT eat.

When I started teaching Birth Boot Camp, I was introduced to the concept of a whole foods diet. Our nutrition class was put together by health and wellness coach Katie Dudley of Cornerstone Integrative Fitness and Wellness. She really tries to make nutrition simple: fewer ingredients, real foods, limited sugar, no processed stuff, fill each plate with fresh, nutrient-rich foods. Slowly the light started coming on and I began to make real changes… It all was becoming more important to me as I considered what first foods my baby would have. I wanted to give him a healthy view of food, a broad palette, a strong immune system and a well-nourished body.

All of these efforts were still only half-hearted until January of 2014. During 2012 and 2013, my husband started to feel a gradual decline in his overall health. He was steadily losing weight and energy. He had migraines often, stomach pains daily, diarrhea only and was regularly losing blood. Emotionally, he was moody, down and grumpy. His GP doctor suggested he may have an ulcer but that all of his symptoms were normal under stressful conditions of a new baby, new jobs and moving. No suggestions for change or concerns were voiced.

By the Summer of 2013, my husband was really suffering. He went on a hiking trip to Big Bend with some friends and while they were out galavanting, he was out of breath and barely able to keep up. He later told me that he sometimes felt out of breath just walking from his truck to his office, just a couple hundred feet. I saw an ad for a GI doctor’s office and called to schedule an appointment. They suggested a colonoscopy.

We went in for the procedure in September 2013. The GI doc spent about 4 minutes with us after the procedure, said it looks like Trevor has Crohns disease and wrote us a long term script for an immune-system suppressant and a short term script for a steriod. He briefly mentioned that about 70% of Trevor’s colon was diseased. We really knew nothing about Crohns, or any auto-immunue diseases, but were thankful to have an answer. Trevor lost his job two weeks later.

Photo Sep 06, 2 25 38 PM

trevor on the day of his procedure

We moved to DFW for a new job in November and by then, Trevor was feeling better. The prescriptions seemed to be helping, but we had a lapse in our insurance coverage so a few weeks went by that he ran out of medication and did not fill the prescriptions. We had a quiet Christmas and ate lots of pastries and goodies. Then, in January, he started feeling sickly again and we refilled the main prescription. The day he started taking it, he felt exhausted and weak. Within a week, he lost about 8 pounds. He would get up and drag himself to work, then come home and go straight to bed. He did not have the energy to eat. We struggled to decide what to do. We did not have a relationship with a GI doctor in DFW and could not get a new patient appointment for a couple of weeks. Any one we called said to go to the emergency room, but we did not want his already weakened immune system to cross paths with the crazy flu epidemic. We reached out for referrals for a doctor who would see him sooner and one of my fellow instructors, Shazia, suggested we see Dr. Sataar, a DO who had helped her with some gut issues.

We were able to see her within a couple of days and she decided to order tests to determine what all was happening in Trevor’s body. She prescribed a temporary steroid but told him not to continue taking the other medication. As soon as he stopped taking it, he started to feel better. We also had an appointment with a GI the following week. He said Trevor needed to start on an intense, expensive immune system suppressant infusion immediately and that it was his only treatment option. He said the drug Trevor was prescribed before was like a water gun trying to put out a house fire and we needed a fire hose. I asked him directly, “Do you believe that food has any impact on Trevor’s disease?” He said, “No. Stress, maybe, but diet? No.” We left and never contacted him again.

The test results with Dr. Sataar showed that Trevor also has Celiac, another auto immune disease and an allergy to gluten. That was step one- eliminate gluten from our diets. (Mine is voluntary, but I say I have Celiac-by-association. We’re in it together.) She explained his gut was so inflamed that he was not actually absorbing many nutrients at all from his food. He was severely anemic- he actually qualified for a transfusion, but we declined. The constant inflammation had also scarred his heart, but she believed it could be reversed. Dr. Sataar also suggested several supplements to heal the gut lining, chlorophyll for the iron count, pro and prebiotics to restore the gut flora. We discussed foods and preservatives that are inflammatory and foods that are anti-inflammatory. She agreed to work patiently with us to avoid the harsher drugs that she did not actually believe his specific case needed. She even urged us to try some essential oils that could help fight the bad bacteria in his gut and reduce inflammation in his body, including in his sinuses from allergies. We had been considering Young Living for a while and her nudge pushed us to take the plunge. All three of us starting using them to support healthy digestive and immune systems.

Slowly but steadily, his vitality came back. He could play in the yard again and then even played on a softball team. His migraines came less and less frequently. Rarely felt stomach pains. He regained about 15 pounds. We went back to blood tests every 3 months to check his progress. Each time, he showed progress overall, but we tweaked his supplements to address areas of his health that were not showing enough improvement. Mostly, we focused on food and prayed often, asking God to bless our efforts and restore his health.

Each month we made more changes. It finally started to make sense: whole foods, cut the junk, cut the additives, crave healthy foods. Fill up on them. Read labels, especially for sugar content. Just because something is labeled “natural” or “gluten free” or “wholesome” does not make it health food. Marketing is deceitful and the mainstream is not healthy. With Trevor’s health, we couldn’t afford not to care. Many medical professionals do not know and/or are not interested in the impact food has on our overall health. I am so thankful we found a doctor who does. I was also pregnant for most of 2015 and am so thankful I had the extra motivation to eat well. I felt really strong and well-nourished throughout my pregnancy.

We don’t eat perfectly, but we do eat consciously. We have a tight budget, but we scour different stores to find the best deals on the best quality food we can afford.  If we eat sugar, we know it and we limit it.  A meal without fresh greens or veggies does not feel complete. We read every label. We are loyal to WATER. (I love this article that calls soda “liquid death.”) We are still learning the truth about food and adjusting our habits as we go. There are days I know I eat too much honey and oats and days Trevor can’t resist cocoa pebbles. But mostly, we try to “eat well to feel well.”

In February, we went back for more blood tests to show his improvement over the course of the year:

This is why what we matters. A year ago a GI doctor said heavy, expensive medications were his only option for treatment. We recognize that may be true for some cases and we are so thankful for medication and interventions when they are truly necessary. But we also realize the hugely positive impact of good foods and the hugely negative effects of not eating them. Food is POWERFUL. Prayer is POWERFUL. Today, Trevor’s only regiment is good food and essential oils. All the catchphrases come to life when I think of Trevor’s results: Food is the best medicine. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Everything we eat is either feeding disease or fighting it. Weight is not the ultimate measure of health. Nourish your body well.
I wish it didn’t take this rude awakening for me to learn the value of good food and detriment of a nutrientless diet. But now that I know it, it makes making choices for my family easier and it empowers me to teach good nutrition to pregnant mamas confidently. Whether we see it immediately or not, what we eat absolutely matters to us and our children. We will not regret making healthy choices!

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