I have to be honest, sitting down to write this post has been no easy task. I literally cringe thinking back and feel a sadness for the girl I was. A lot of insecurities are sitting in the following words and for a while I thought it was possible to become a health coach without fully telling my story from start to finish. There would be a dishonesty in pretending that I was always a healthy, exercise loving girl or that getting to a healthy place in mind and body were easy. It wasn’t- and it is still a balancing act some days- but shedding some light on my truths is something I feel like I have to do in order to help others and finalize my own healing in so many ways. So here goes…
I remember as far back as grammar school thinking that my body wasn’t good enough. This is where my relationship to food became pretty skewed. I used to create “meal plans” and exercise routines for myself- of which I could never actually stick to- and would feel guilty for it. I would gather old magazines and create vision boards of “fitspo” inspiration. I was a dancer and loved the idea of my body maybe one day magically changing into these long, lean muscles that could move in these graceful manners. Instead, my body was often greeted with painful hips and knees when moving in those ways.
At 12 years old, I loved the idea of being “the tiny one”- and I was, but never felt it. My mother used to complain about her body and at other times say things like “Sorry Kar- you got my body!” Although I don’t think her words were intentional, it made me realize that if her body wasn’t nice, and we had the same body type, then my body wasn’t nice. Not to mention, my older sister was the ultimate tall and skinny Barbie- opposite of me completely. My 5’4″ body just never measured up to my “ideal body.”
Fast forward to high school, I started my freshman year at around 85-90lbs. I remember my guy friend teasing me about wearing a bra at all and insinuating that my bras must be super padded. (oh, they were!) Being older and having a bit more freedom meant a lot of time spent out with friends. We went to cafes, diners, fast food places, pizza, ice cream and of course, like most teenagers, alcohol. This partying also meant less sleep and pretty much no physical exercise at all. Needless to say, my metabolism kept me slim but by NO means healthy at all. I was often bloated, tired, had migraines and suddenly started developing reactions to foods I was eating without ever realizing what was happening. When you feel like crap most days, it becomes your baseline and so you don’t notice when the little signs are creeping up.
By the time college came, I was literally in my own bubble with zero awareness of what I was physically doing to my body. Up all night partying, school and work all day- eating out constantly. To make matters worse, my physical body wasn’t the only thing that was under a lot of stress. My emotional and mental well being weren’t in the best place either. My step father had the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and was in a very depressed state. During this time he had attempted suicide a few times and my reality when I went home at night was really scary. I never knew who I was getting, if he had a good day or a bad day, if he was upset with me over something trivial or was happy I was home. Worst of all, never knowing if I would find him alive or not. This anxiety caused me to pick up more shifts at work than necessary, find things to do to be out of the house, more partying, more escape from reality. It caused a lot of turmoil with all relationships around me- my family, my friends and my boyfriend.
I was managing a children’s gym and teaching about 18 classes a week when things started crashing down around me, one at a time. I had to move out of my house for my sanity, I had relationships problems with just about everyone around me, including myself, and my body literally felt like I was 100 years old. One after another, abnormal symptoms started to appear. I felt like I was walking around in a fog, felt “ADHD” like- never being able to wrap my head around anything before having to concentrate on the next thought, my stomach was bloated all.of.the.damn.time, my joints hurt, my face broken out and my energy level was so low it was scary. Really scary. My friend suggested that I try going gluten free for a while, just to see how I felt. And WHOA did it make a world of difference for my energy, joints and mind! I was gluten free for 3 or 4 years when I noticed how bad nuts made me feel- particularly almonds. Then I would have random reactions to fruits such as bananas. It seemed like everything I ate made my stomach bloat and cause this sharp, shooting pain. So I put gluten back into my diet figuring small doses wouldn’t make me feel any worse than I’m already feeling.
I was at a really low point with no hope to feeling better and no idea where to turn to next. I knew my body wasn’t responding to foods the way it should or the way it used to. I ended up contacting an allergist who administered a prick test on my back for any reactions to common foods I was eating. As he walked back into the room a few minutes later, he laughed and said “You may need to start eating meat my dear, because with the looks of this test, I’m not quite sure what you can eat anymore.” (Yah, any little hope I had of finding out the root cause that day-SQUASHED!)
The test showed I was reacting to 58 things that I ate pretty regularly. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, chocolate, dairy, wheat– you name it! (He didn’t actually test me for meat since I had been a vegetarian for so long, there was no chance that any sort of meat would have caused the reaction in my body.) My body was in full on FREAK OUT mode and totally inflamed. I spent the next few months on an elimination diet. Every few days putting new foods back into my diet after an initial 2 week cleanse of every food that I reacted to except for almonds and tree nuts. (I was told that my levels were a bit too high to safely put those back in without complete supervision.) To this day, I don’t eat any tree nuts.
The elimination diet gave me so much insight into how my body was reacting to things and the most amazing thing to come of it was realizing how GOOD I was supposed to feel! I had felt like complete crap for SO long that I didn’t even realize what feeling good felt like. This experience completely changed my perspective on how the body works and with that, my obsession with nutrition and wellness was born.
It started with myself. I re-ignited my yoga practice I had abandoned during this time of madness and dove head first into learning more about yoga philosophy. I enrolled in my first yoga teacher training. I also started to research the hell out of my condition and what caused my body to react like this. Stress, poor self care, not enough nutritious food, perhaps too many antibiotics over the years (I had a bad kidney infection as a child that caused me to be hospitalized and was given antibiotics for nearly a year afterwards)- the list could go on and on. But at this point, I stopped counting the items on it and started to turn to healing.
During this time, I realized how much inquiry I was getting from friends and coworkers about what I was eating, how I was feeling, my energy levels, how to help their issues, etc. In true “out of balance” Karen fashion- I quit my Masters’ program (that I was really close to completing, by the way 🤦🏼♀️) and dove head first into a health coaching certificate at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition. BEST DECISION I’VE EVER MADE!
Perhaps because it was the first thing I ever did strictly for myself (I asked no ones opinion before enrolling & didn’t tell a lot of people for a while either) but this program changed my life. It not only pointed a positive direction for my career but it pointed out all of the areas I needed to work on for me, without the shaming that comes a long with “accountability” type programs. I was excited to do homework & couldn’t wait for the next week of work. Isn’t that how school should be?! I’ve learned how to calibrate and recalibrate my life to achieve my perfectly unbalanced balance. I’ve learned that pumping the brakes is necessary some times but so is completely diving in. The good, the bad, the messy and the beautiful- this journey was worth it.
So now, I’m on a mission. I’m fighting for a pure, clean, honest & safe life for my family and myself. And now, for other people as well. My honest truth is that I don’t want to be another health coach who is going to give you endless amount of pretty pictures recipes with ingredients you don’t know much about or where to buy. I don’t want to give you a diet plan. I want to show you the beauty in the simplicity of a good life. I want you to find your balance with your health and mind. I want you to not only look good but more so, feel good!
I’m on this mission to spread the idea that balance is this insane notion to be played with- not achieved.
My wellness journey may have started with me but it’s shifting towards everyone else now & I couldn’t be more excited for what comes next!