Mommy Cookies

Growing up, our freezer always had a bag of nestle chocolate chips.  My mother would bake chocolate chip cookies each week, sometimes even twice a week.  She had taken the recipe from the back of the bag of nestle chocolate chip cookies and modified it over the years and created what became known to friends and family as “Mommy Cookies”.  I associated these cookies with love, family, pleasure and something that was always there for me.  My mother was always there for me as well.  She was my best friend and I could tell her anything without fear of embarrassment or judgement.  She was my ultimate cheerleader and a second mom to many of my friends.  So in 2003, right after the time of my diagnosis with ulcerative colitis, and the birth of my preemie son, I was unprepared for the confusing experience I would have with my Mom when she came to visit.  My son had finally came home after his extended stay in the NICU, still awaiting a second surgery that he would need later in the year.  I continued to recover and regain my strength and all I wanted was the comfort of my mother to spend time with me, assist me with my new baby and help me to feel normal again.  I just wanted to hear “everything is going to be alright.”  Soon, I began to see that everything was not alright, that is…… with my Mom.

I lived in a small 2 bedroom apartment just outside of Boston, and each time my mother needed something from the kitchen she would ask, “Where is the kitchen?” and seem disoriented as how to navigate the small space we were living in.   In addition, she began repeating the same story to me multiple times throughout the day.   The attentive mother I had remembered who would rush home from work at lunch to check on me if I was home sick as a teenager,  seemed distracted and unable to help me as I had always envisioned my mother would do after I had my first child.  I knew something was wrong, but at the time, I and my mother’s doctor attributed the changes in her memory to stress. Why would anyone think otherwise?  My mother was a healthy 52-year-old woman.

Two years later in 2005, I was pregnant with my second son.  I received a phone call from my mother’s co-worker explaining that something was not right with my mom.  She was the lead teacher of a Montessori school teaching 3, 4 and 5-year-old children.  The co-worker explained that my mother, who had helped structure the organization of the classroom was not able to find things around the room, seemed confused, and was  repeating the same stories throughout the day.

At the time, I had moved back home from Boston to NJ and was a few months away from giving birth to my second child.  Now being immersed in my mother’s world and having the opportunity to speak with her co-workers, I had come to believe that my mother was not suffering from stress, and that it was probably something much more serious.  We saw a top Neurologist out of Columbia, had MRI’s, spinal taps and several neuropsychological tests were completed.  My mother was ultimately diagnosed with early onset dementia.

I began to mourn the mother I had  known that was beginning to slip away from me; the mother that was always there for me.  As my mother slipped away, I turned to what also was always there for me, food, my reliable “Mommy cookies”.  I stopped caring about my health and what I put in my body.  I believe I was mourning for what my mother did not even realize she was loosing, her memory.  “If my mother could not enjoy and live a good life, then neither would I” became my new philosophy.  Food can often be such a secretive way to self harm unlike drugs or alcohol.  From the outside I did not look like someone who was self harming with food.  However, I began to vacillate between times of eating very little, to times of grabbing comfort food.

At this point in time, the ulcerative colitis caused by the inflammation in my body was being alleviated by my daily medication.  However, I continued to suffer from severe allergies, severe migraines and fatigue.   The further damage I continued to do to my gut through unhealthy food was significant, but the pain of gradually loosing my mother and the stress over the years coordinating her care was even more damaging than the food.

If we really step back and think about it.  Food is not always the main cause of our illnesses. At that point in my life,  a gormet chef could have prepared me 3 healthy meals a day, and spoon fed it to me and I still would have been sick.   When our relationships, our careers, our finances and our spirituality are suffering we will never be truly healthy and  fulfilled.   All the veggies will not heal our sickness and all the “mommy cookies” will not serve as a substitue to fulfill our souls.

Our nourishment to help us all heal must come from multiple areas in our lives.  The first step in my beginning to heal was to come to see that I was allowed to have a good and fulfilled life, even if my mother would not be enjoying the same.   I had to believe that my mother would never want me to be ill as well and would only want me to have a  wonderful life , as every nurturuing mother wants for their children.  I had to come to a place in my life where I would begin to put myself first on the list.  By doing so, I would not only be on a path of healing, I would also be teaching my children something critical.

I challenge you to get to the source of the pain in your own life.   Are you feeding your self with “mommy cookies” instead of true nourishment?   Where do you fall on list when it comes to taking care of people?   When you start your day, are you on a mission to take care of yourself?   What is one new way  you can begin to start doing something for you that will lead to a better, less exhausted, more fulfilled and happy version of yourself?

 

Now Go Love You, Jill 🙂


What’s bugging me?

Early on during my diagnosis in 2003 a close family member introduced me to the macrobiotic way of eating.  I was given a book written by a women who was severely ill with Crohn’s disease, another autoimmune disease, also affecting the digestive system.  In this book, the woman began eating a macrobiotic diet which is heavy in grains, vegetables, sea vegetables, beans, fish, and miso soup.  If you research macrobiotics you will find that there is some variation from the list I provided.  Each time the woman was seriously ill, the person guiding her on food choices continued to emphasize miso soup repeatedly.  By the end of the book, this woman explained that she had been free of all symptoms now for over 20 years since changing her diet. This gave me so much hope and I began to experiment.  Unfortunately for me, eating a diet high in grains induces symptoms of my autoimmune disease and headaches. However I was intrigued by the idea that miso soup seemed to be the key to decreasing this woman’s symptoms.    

I continued to experiment with different dietary theories over the years, such as Paleo and the SCD diets; both had shown promise with autoimmune disorders, specifically ulcerative colitis.  The one factor however consistent throughout all the dietary theories I researched was that they all included some form of fermented food such as miso (fermented soy) which include “the good bacteria”as a key to improving health.  I became fascinated with this topic of having healthy bugs in my gut! I had so many questions, What makes the bugs go away? What do I eat besides miso soup to get the healthy bugs? Is it just digestive autoimmune disorders that have an imbalance of healthy gut bacteria?  Maybe if I could replace this bacteria I would no longer be sick?

Science today is catching up to what macrobiotics and other diets have suggested; a healthy gut or thriving microbiome is really where it all begins. What science is beginning to tell us is that our gut is like our SECOND BRAIN!  Not only is research beginning to explain that an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria is implicated in all types of autoimmune disorders, several studies explain that the healthy gut bacteria actually secrete serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates our moods! As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of millions of neurons connecting the brain to the enteric nervous system ( the part of the nervous system controlling the GI system).  In addition, this entire flood of healthy bacteria also interacts dynamically with the immune system! For me I didn’t understand it all at that moment, but I had become convinced that creating a healthy balance of gut bacteria would help me with my GI disorder, headaches, mood and possibly more.  

The more I began to learn I came to believe that all those antibiotics I had taken to address my chronic sinus infections, and Advil to relieve me of my headaches were a part of the puzzle removing that healthy gut bacteria.  I also learned that diets high in sugar and processed foods could also kill healthy gut bacteria. In addition, all this damage to my gut led me to investigate whether I had food intolerances, which I had suspected could be gluten, dairy and corn, ( more about food intolerances and the gluten free craze in upcoming blogs).  I also learned that while some studies will claim artificial sweeteners such as Splenda are “safe”, many studies have shown that these sweeteners actually latch onto the healthy gut bacteria and remove them from the body.  There are several other ways that good bacteria balance is affected in the body such as this bacteria not being transferred vaginally during birth, as well as the hygiene theory that, we are too clean. Feel free to further research this fascinating topic. Lastly and most importantly I learned that STRESS can change the microbiome.  I now have this crazy vision as I begin to get stressed or angry that there is this enemy combative in my gut killing all the good bacteria contributing to my health issues! More about stress relieving techniques in the future.

In any event, I’m sure you can see I’m a bit of a science nerd when it comes to learning about the microbiome in our gut.  I predict one day we will be able to have our gut bacteria anylzed just like a urinalysis or routine blood test to let us know exactly what bacteria we are depleated of.  Right now it is, pardon the expression a “crap shoot” to figure out exactly what bacteria we have in our own guts.  I am hopeful that better understanding the gut, brain, immune system connection can transform medicine as we currently know it.  

Today, I do my best to include a variety of fermented foods in my diet daily.  Some examples include pickles and sauerkraut which can be made at home or bought in the store. The pickle and sauerkraut jar must state that there are live active cultures as pasteurized versions have killed the good bacteria.  If you can tolerate dairy, examples include Kefir milk, yogurt and cultured butter. Another example is kombucha, which is fermented tea and comes in a variety of flavors. One of my favorite ways to increase the healthy gut variety is to get a Dog! Aside from being a great stress reliever, people who own pets such as dogs have been shown to have a greater variety of bacteria in their guts.  While this is far from a complete list, here are some ways you can begin changing your gut health.  Of course always discuss dietary changes or concerns with your physician.  

Now Go Love You,

Jill 😊 


Why a Blog, Why Now?

Throughout my life I have had several health challenges and have spent years and years trying different types of diets and lifestyle changes to heal my body.  When I was 6 years old I had developed migraines. I saw top Neurologists in NYC, had an MRI, did elimination diets and was ultimately told, its genetic, here is some medication.  Thus I began my love affair with Tylenol, but then broke up with him when it was…… “no longer working.”   Then me and Advil began a new relationship and we stuck together for many, many years, unknowingly creating significant damage to my gut.  In late elementary, early middle school years I had developed seasonal allergies.  Those seasonal allergies became so severe I would chronically end up on antibiotics for repeated sinus infections; the antibiotics continued an assault on my gut.   However, in 2003, at the age of 24,  I had a severe health crisis that changed the course of  my life.  During my first pregnancy, at 16 weeks, I started developing severe GI symptoms and was ultimately diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an autoimmune disorder.  I had not known at the time but ultimately found out that there were several people in my family that also had ulcerative colitis.  My pregnancy continued and I was placed on several medications, including steroids.  Despite interventions, I became sicker and sicker, developing gestational diabetes and ultimately was diagnosed with Preeclampsia.  The Preeclampsia was so severe that all my organs were shutting down and my first born son was delivered at 32 weeks of pregnancy.  I saw the best of the best doctors at the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston where I was living at the time,  as well as the best of the best in NYC when I moved back home.  Everyone told me the same thing, “diet and stress do not cause or have any effect on this disease. It runs in your family and you need to accept that you will be on medication for the rest of your life.”  To be honest, I was just happy to be alive and thankful that after my son was delivered, the medication did begin to work.  To this day I thank G-d that modern medicine was so advanced, that not only was my life saved, the life of my newborn son was saved as he required emergency surgery 5 days after he was born due to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a complication that can happen in preemies.

For many, many years I continued to get up every morning take my medicine and just accepted that I had a chronic autoimmune disorder and required medication.  Whenever I stopped taking the medicine my symptoms of ulcerative colitis came back.  In addition, I continued to suffer from allergies and migraines.  The migraines progressed to a point where I had visual disturbances (an aura) including blind spots and flashing lights to warn me that a severe “stay in bed for 24 hours headache” was coming in 20 minutes.

 

Fast forward to today, 14 years after reading many books, experimenting with food, working with a health coach and completely transforming my diet and my lifestyle, I no longer have symptoms of ulcerative colitis as long as I stick to my self-care plan.  In addition, I was shocked to find that I no longer have seasonal allergies and have significantly less migraines. Everyone is an individual and there is no question that the exact changes that I made to transform my health, are not the same changes that would transform another’s health. A year from now, 5 years from now etc. my self-care plan may be different as we are all always changing, aging and learning new things as we travel on our own individual health journeys.

 

I have always worked in the health and wellness field as a physical therapist with a special focus on treating people with stroke, Parkinson’s disease, MS and all gait and balance disorders. In addition, I am also board certified in Tai Chi for Health.  Several months ago, I sustained a significant injury while working with a patient. This made me question where I would be with my physical health years from now if I continued on this career path.  This was not the first time I sustained an injury while with a patient. Working as a physical therapist in the neurological population can take its toll on the body.  For years, I had been wanting to find a way to share the successes I experienced in transforming my health and this recent injury was my “ah ha moment”.  I made a life changing decision to go back to school to further educate myself in the health and wellness field.  As a result, my goal is to combine my background as a physical therapist and Tai Chi with my new education in the field of health and wellness and begin a new journey.  Stay tuned for further updates in this area as I will be picking up health coaching clients in the near future.

 

Thank you all so much for reading my very first blog!  I hope by putting myself out there I can inspire, educate and create self-reflection in others toward achieving greater health.  Health and wellness is NOT an impossible goal, but the impossible CANNOT be done without having our health.  The power is within YOU!  By putting yourself first and making small health changes in your own life, you will have the opportunity to transform yourself, and with G-ds help, you can then fully give of yourself to those around you.

Now Go and Love You,

Jill 🙂