I was skinny on the outside, but fat on the inside!
My story is not overly dramatic. I didn’t have a weight issue. Since beginning my health journey it has taken so many unpredictable twist and turns, a bit like the crazy road maps of life and I have had many updates since writing this. So let’s go way back to the beginning. My eating habits and view about food, like most people, stems from what you are taught and see growing up. I have never been hugely overweight, I would joke about having a cast iron stomach when it came to food and I ate exactly what I wanted.
Life was good, most things in my adult life were slipping nicely into place and I felt good about where I was, where I was heading and to be honest didn’t really think about food and how it affected my body (other than weight) and saw food as a daily link to happiness, home, childhood and celebration. I didn’t really think much either about the family sized chocolate bar I consumed every night as I prepared dinner (yep you read right, whilst I cooked dinner). I knew, obviously, it wasn’t the smartest move, but nevertheless it had no effect on my health and had become a part of my nightly ritual.
I had been vegetarian since the age of eleven after having to write a controversial piece for my final English assignment in grade one of high school. I chose to argue that animals should not be slaughtered for food. So I suppose I have always had an ethical stance on how and where food has and should come from, and I learnt which types of foods I needed to consume to sustain a healthy body… or so I thought.
Muesli bars, juices, soy products as well as all the fruit and veg I could eat?
Being vegetarian was not an easy thing to do. I was second youngest of six and our household was always a busy kerfuffle of weekday dinners of meat and three veg (one always being creamy mashed potato). We had ‘Sunday tea’ which consisted of one of my mum’s heavenly bake ups of mince pies, sausage rolls, a huge trifle, sandwiches, vol-au-vents, chocolate biscuits and crisps. As the years went by and processed convenient foods crept in, these teas were transported into the nineties with throw-in-the oven pastry bites, frozen chocolate éclairs, cheesy biscuits, peanuts, Swiss roll, almond fingers, the list goes on, and all out of packet. For the English reader out there I was a product of the ‘Iceland’ * generation. My mum was an amazing cook, roast dinners were no exception and every week, she would still ask if I wanted ‘just a little bit of chicken,’ bless her. The plates would be piled high and again as the years went by we had ‘pudding’. These were after dinner treats of cake, jam sponge, chocolate pudding, sticky date pudding, drenched in custard or ice-cream. Packed-lunches were always a round of processed white bread with margarine (a healthier option to butter…) processed meats like polony or wedges of cheese and tomato, or pickle, followed by an individual wrapped cake and or chocolate biscuit and an apple. Yummo! School lunches (or dinners for the English) were a bigger treat of hamburgers, sausage rolls, pastries and hot chips, all washed down with juice and a pudding, tart and yep more custard!
As I hit my teens and began to drink the healthier option of diet Coke at the local pub, instead of beer, again I thought my ‘healthiness halo ‘ was still intact. I didn’t understand how I began piling on the weight. I was told, “It’s hormones, puppy fat.” Little did I know I wasn’t eating enough fat or the right fats. I was fuelling my sugar addiction and paving the way for a lifestyle of fast fixes and like many of us a love/hate relationship with food.
As I hit my twenties my weight stabilised to how I was when I was younger. I wasn’t fat and as I moved non-stop most days but didn’t exercise per se, I thought I must be doing something right. I hardly got sick apart from an influx of mouth ulcers when I had over done it on the sugar. This was often. You see, I made this amazing fudge, a signature treat which family and friends would asked me to always bring to meetings, get togethers and family teas and other social gatherings. The problem with my fudge, that it tasted so good I couldn’t stop at one piece… I also made an indulgent Tiramisu, an almond slice, fruit cake, the list goes on. I was a chocoholic, a sugar head. The scary thing looking back, is that I was not alone, I was like many people still linked emotionally through tradition, love and memories to this ‘happy food.’
Now as a young mother of two I loved baking, providing my children home cooked comfort foods that in tradition we had been accustomed too. But just like lots of people out there I was sucked into the calorie fallacy, that if I burnt those calories off, I’d stay healthy and slim. I began going to the gym, started to think about what I ate, swapping white flours to whole grains, low fat yoghurts and all of the other lies that we are consistently being fed as to how we can stay healthy and fit. I drank skimmed milk, stopped sugar in my tea and coffee. I didn’t even process that the sugar I stopped adding to my tea was the same sugar I had poured it into a huge Victoria sponge cake, or tiramisu or other likewise treat. I suppose if it was hidden, out of sight, out of mind. I was a hypocrite. I can remember moaning at my mum putting sugar on everything she ate. Sugar on strawberries, in cream, her tea, even on top of her tomatoes in a sandwich. “It’s bad for you!” I’d say as I scooped up a huge bowl of creamy ‘low fat’ milky pasta or yoghurt. “It’s bad for you!” I’d say even though I had just inhaled a giant cheese straw and a chocolate bar on the way home from the gym. I also secretly completely understood why my mum put sugar in her Doctor Pepper to “take the fizz away”. I loved flat Coke. My mum said it gave her energy; this is what many people believed growing up after the war. My mum was tall, beautiful and slim. She had loads of energy, looked younger than her years and she went dancing with my dad sometimes five nights a week at various country music clubs, so again maybe she was ok because she was burning off the fat? It seemed to be working for her.
Fifteen years later, my mum began to get sick, very sick and lost her battle to pancreatic cancer in 2007. You see, what no one realised, including me, is that she was fat on the inside, skinny on the outside.
This is not really much better than being morbidly obese. It amazes me that we as a population still don’t understand the truth about sugar. It’s not our size that matters, its what we are fuelling our body with to sustain a healthy balance of good fats and nutrients; weight doesn’t come into the equation. Little did I know at the time and quite frankly didn’t want to know at this time about it, that was until a few years later when I had a check up at my local dentist…
You see it all comes down to education, and what ‘they’ want you to know. ‘They’ being the large food and pharmaceutical companies, mainstream dentistry and the medical profession. Before this particular check up, everything seemed fine. I was as strong and healthy as I could be considering I was eating empty calories such as carb and sugar loaded lots of convenience snacks and biscuits. “Just in for a check-up today?” “Yes,” came the reply. A little after an hour later, I had had X-rays, been told that I had a small tooth cavity and was having a tooth drilled and filled. After my ‘check up’ that day I began getting a lot of sinus problems, my mouth was sore and my headache lasted days into weeks. As I was convinced that it was my tooth that was causing this pain I went back to another dentist who told me I had an infection due to the gum not being cleaned out properly and would need antibiotics (no.1). This tooth was then drilled out and re-cleaned and re-filled. Unfortunately for me this didn’t really help as the infection had passed into my sinus cavities and the sinusitis and headaches were getting worse. I tried numerous other remedies, but all in vain.
I am a primary school teacher, and any primary school teachers out there know that it’s a crazy busy day everyday, without a minute to spare. I carried on with painkillers and mouthwashes, steaming rituals morning and evening just to get through, but this one day the pressure in my head was building at an uncontrollable rate. I thought I was having a migraine as I had never had one before. During a DOTT (Duties Other Than Teaching) I collapsed with the immense pain in my head in a heap at school, lost my vision, felt nauseous, and so Bendy came and collected me as I couldn’t drive. I slept for nearly two days and slowly began to feel better. However the sinusitis was still there and not going away. A few weeks later after coming home from an evening course on speech I sat down to a plate of veggies and rice, poured over some hot chilli sauce and began to eat, three mouthfuls in and my mouth did not seem to want to respond in its usual chomping up and down motion? I had tingling in my lips and down one side of the jaw; I thought I was having a stroke! After completing the tongue action, top to bottom and side to side, I convinced myself I was all-good and it was the chilli sauce that I was having a reaction to, I took some antihistamines and went to bed to sleep it off.
The next morning I got up as usual, not looking my best, but nevertheless got dressed, put on some make-up and got ready to go to work. I didn’t have much feeling in the right side of my face and my jaw was still drooping. I looked like a stroke victim but still convinced I was having an allergic reaction to the chilli sauce I went into school after popping more pills.
On arrival at my school, and probably scaring a few of the children, my deputy principal said I should go straight to the doctors. So I considered he may be right.
By the time I was seen, most of my right side of my face was numb, and the left side under my eye. I then realised I was paralysed. I couldn’t blink, smile and was slurring my words. I couldn’t move 80 per cent of my face. I felt the tears roll out of my eyes silently down my cheeks. Upon receiving my examination I was told it was most probably Bells Palsy, a form of facial paralysis resulting from a dysfunction of the cranial nerve VII (the facial nerve) causing an inability to control facial muscles on the affected side. Often the eye in the affected side cannot be closed. So even if it was Bells Palsy, this was not good! I was sent for a routine head scan and to see a neurosurgeon and yep another lot of antibiotics, no.2 just in case of an infection.
The doctor could not tell me why this happens and couldn’t really tell me how to fix it. While waiting to see the neurosurgeon (he had to fly to Brisbane for a charity event) as he would need to see head scans, I spent days and days in physio, 3 – 6 hours a day in front of a mirror trying to move muscles in my face that before now I didn’t even know I had. Anyone out there who has had Bells Palsy knows how frustrating it is and my heart goes out to any stroke victims and what they endure. It’s sad, frustrating and hard work! Your eyes dry out, you have to tape them shut in the shower or to sleep. And chewing is out of the question, unless you want to dribble and spit food everywhere. So I began juicing. A fast working, easy way to get healthy nutrients into the body to help it heal. But like most people who go down the juicing road for the first time I used way too many fruits over veggies. I must have been consuming a lot of sugar. Over the coming days there was improvement and some of the face muscles were coming back to life. Phewee!
After another few weeks had passed and after seeing the neurosurgeon he confirmed a brain infection. A what? How? Why? When? It seemed that the infection in my tooth that was packed in with a hard filling had nowhere else to go except down my root canals and into my facial nerves and into my sinuses, travelling up through my optical canal and yep, into my brain.
Apparently I was very lucky and was recovering quite well. He wanted to attack the problem head on (excuse the pun) and prescribed some very powerful antibiotics, no3.
A week or two later and after giving the news to my now newly appointed dentist, and after having further X-rays, he suggested root canal treatment if I didn’t want to lose my tooth. I was talked into this option after expressing that I didn’t really want to lose a tooth, and he agreed that it was different for a lady to lose a tooth than a man for vanity reasons. I was prescribed another lot of antibiotics, no.4, even though I told him I was still taking some and was assured these target a different area. One lot working on my brain infection and these making sure the infection from my tooth was clear before entering into root canal treatment. After treatment another lot of antibiotics were prescribed to prevent getting another infection, no.5!!! I was told that not all root canal treatments are a success. There was still a 50/50 chance that I could lose my tooth. I went back for my check ups twice after the surgery and even though the tooth was still very sore and I was getting headaches I was told that it was a success and I didn’t need to come back.
Gut Flora – What I didn’t know…
We know that antibiotics kill bacteria right? What I didn’t know, realise or had given a moments thought was that the side effects of antibiotics are not selective in choosing which bacteria to kill. All the good bacterial colonies in the gut die along with the bad. My gut had just received bombshell after bombshell, wiping out any healthy bacteria and compromising my stomach acid and causing a whole manner of digestive issues.
So by now I was a pretty happy chick, I had 97 per cent of my facial muscles back in working order. I now have a slightly wonky smile, but to anyone else I have made a full recovery. Feeling very lucky and a feeling of never wanting to go through anything like that again, a health check was needed. I had decided, there is no way I was going to be ill again, if I could help it! No sir-ree! Eating healthy, being healthy, exercising and staying positive. I had a new lease for life and wasvery thankful for it. I still had all my teeth and a face that worked again. So on went my trainers and I went out for a run. It was hard work; I couldn’t get to the end of my street without feeling like my lungs were on fire and my heart was in my throat. Determined, I went out the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that and before long I was running around the block. After persistence and some great tunes on my iPod running became fun. Not for everyone I know, but for me it was de-stresser, time for me and the high after was like nothing I had experienced before. I met some runners at the beach on a Sunday morning, my girlfriends egged me on and in a short 6 months I was entering my first half marathon.
Looking back, I had always joked that, even though I choose not to eat meat, I could eat almost anything else without any worries. I never had an upset stomach, the hotter and spicier a dish the better. Pastry, sweets, cakes and pretty much anything else. But not anymore.
Now, it seemed like anything I ate was making me sick. Spending hours on the toilet, excessive bloating, tiredness and a general feeling of un-wellness. This went on for sometime, with several tests from the doctors to see if I was celiac as it seemed bread was the biggest trigger to my bloating. I would have to wear baggy, elasticated clothes to work, as I knew by lunch time I would look three months pregnant and by the time I got home in the evening I was ready to give birth.
An elimination diet was the advice I got from lots of family and friends who were now very concerned. I had gone from fit and healthy to being a complete wreck! The running kept me going and the bloating didn’t actually hinder me from this due to running early or before school.
At this time MKR (My Kitchen Rules), a cooking competition television show hosted by two of our top celebratory chefs, had begun I think it’s third season. One of the hosts, Pete Evans was looking noticeably rather fit. He had hit the media’s attention because he had lost weight and trimmed up due to a new diet he was on. ‘The Paleo Diet’. So I investigated. I was intrigued to learn that most of the foods that were making me bloat and sick were foods Pete Evans had chosen not to eat. For the last few months I had been angry that I couldn’t eat some fresh bread with jam, or a bowl of muesli without looking like I had put on a fat suit. Once I started to learn about our gut health and how it affects how our bodies run, how we as a race aren’t meant to be consuming grains, dairy and sugar I felt like I had been given the secret key to a long and healthy life.
I immediately began eating a Paleo diet and began educating myself about the science behind it. Wow, what an eye opener. It still fascinates me today how many lies we are being told, how many antibiotics are being handed out, how much radiation I was exposed to after x-ray and scan which have major effects on you health, thyroid, muscles and joints, when Mother Earth and all her gifts are the medicine in food we need to thrive. It is a subject that I will never stop learning and sharing.
I am currently trying to heal Leaky Gut, Hypothyroidism (an out of whack thyroid) and all ailments that go along with that, like weight gain, fatigue, muscle and joint pain. I have adapted my diet to more of an AIP (Auto Immune Protocol) and for me the battle continues. I am currently exploring the connection to dental health, especially root canal treatment and amalgam fillings as I believe these along with grain and sugar to be a major factor in our overall health and the many chronic and autoimmune diseases we are struggling with everyday.
So it is with this passion and spirit that I and my gorgeous husband (Bendy) want to share how we began our journey down the road to regaining our health and how my unconventional family have adapted to meet each of our individual needs in either LCHF (Low Car, High Fat), Vegetarian Paleo, Pescatarian Paleo and an allergy sufferer.
So please come walk on the wild side of life with me, Mel, and the rest of The Bendy’s and unlock your true potential to a healthier and happier you!