Nutrition and health have always been a passion. I grew up absorbing anything and everything related to health sciences, sports and wellness but, for reasons I’ll discuss below, I ended up doing a business school, holding a master in business administration and working in big corporates for 13 years. I climbed the corporate ladder to managerial positions, was regional head of APAC in my latest corporate role and earning big. The success was rewarding, it all looked powerful and exciting, but deep down, I’ve always felt like something was missing. As time passed by, my physical and mental health were deteriorating, my stress level was at the highest, I was stuck, living in a vicious circle of patterns that did not serve me well. But I didn’t know that at the time. What brought me to my lowest point was a combination of many factors, I was more than ever disconnected from who I really was and the consequences on my overall health were disastrous. I knew something had to change, and I started my self-healing journey.
How it started:
I was the product of my conditioning and upbringing, I was raised in a home with solid codependency and enmeshment (defined as an environment / family where personal boundaries are not respected, with an over concern towards a parental figure, where the state of emotion of that parental figure dominates, takes over your own, leading to a loss of confidence and simply, who we are). Boundaries were inexistent, the heavy emotions of the household had to be the emotions of everyone in the house. We felt responsible for it and whatever we (me and my sister) would do was never enough, and it made us feel like we weren’t enough. The weight of that ongoing energy and having a parental figure dependent on our actions for happiness as if we were the parent, was a baggage we lived with. I wasn’t modeled healthy eating habits and food was usually associated with emotional states, so I grew up as an overweight child and young teenager. At school, I’ve been bullied and criticized because of my weight, and soon I started, like at home, doing the extra mile to prove my worth and be accepted. So I got to understand that, to be accepted and liked, I had to erase myself and put others’ needs first. Setting aside my own person for others is what I’ve considered normality, and the people pleasing and over-achieving part were bringing me that acceptance and recognition I yearned for. Along these young years I started dieting, to feel better with myself but also to better fit societal models and be even more accepted, but over time I developed an eating disorder, that I later understood was simply an attempt to control what I was not having control in a codependent environment, and regulate my emotional burden.
These events have really impacted how I started my young professional life and the health issues that ensued. I chose to do a business school, something I knew would look good and guarantee me a job with good money, always having in mind the image of success I would project onto others and the acceptance that comes with it. I wasn’t leaving room for my true interests and skills, neither I considered them valid. I moved to Singapore where I excelled in a financial services career, reaching top managerial positions.
I was living with the protective mechanisms I have built for myself and I believed the stories my ego-self was telling me and I chased the wrong dreams. I was successful, I was always surrounded, but in reality, I felt empty. I didn’t feel a great sense of purpose with what I was doing, but I kept going, I was too scared to leave what I created. Alone with myself, I would always dive into what I loved the most: sports, my nature trail runs and exploring; I did several running races and triathlons, it brought me such a deep connection to myself, something I would only experience during those times. I also had a deep interest in nutrition and understanding the science behind how the body works, but I left those as my personal hobbies when I had the time.. I spent many years living this life, wearing that shiny armor doing something that wasn’t in line with who I was, and my health deteriorated as time passed by.
I was still suffering from eating disorders early in my career – either extreme dieting or going to the other end of the spectrum, over-eating and bulimia. I would use purging methods such as vomiting to get that control back over my weight. These were all coping mechanisms, and the over-eating piece was my way to fill that deep emptiness. Later on I got to understand that the eating disorder was a way to gain control over myself, regulate my nervous system, since I was deprived of being in control of my own emotional boundaries and self as a growing child and young adult. And the rejection at school plus the societal models for young women were a combination of factors that did not help.
Reaching the lowest point to learn to fly even higher:
The health and mental impact of this hidden illness, the constant performance pressure at work and the endurance sport I kept practicing as an escape, set my body to live in an ongoing chronic stress mode which really aggravated my health over the years. I already had a sensitive respiratory system with childhood asthma, occasional flare-up in my adult life and sinus issues but the latter kept getting worse over time. I underwent two sinus endoscopic surgeries to remove polyps in my early twenties but the inflammation kept coming back as I developed chronic sinusitis. I spent many years at various ENT specialists , taking all sorts of bacterial sensitive antibiotics combined with corticoids to reduce inflammation. It would alleviate the symptoms but they’d reappear even worse later. The constant inflammation would make me feel terrible. Tiredness, headache, brain fog, depressive state, loss of smell and taste, purulent discharges, ear infections were almost becoming normality. I discovered that I had more than 35 intolerances, including gluten; I had severe allergic reactions and asthma flare-up I could barely breathe, I couldn’t even go for a run! Doctors kept giving me medicine that would shut down my symptoms, but everything would creep back in. I didn’t know what to do anymore, so I requested for a complete check up including blood work. But the doctors found nothing.. except high inflammatory markers “ probably due to allergies” they said.
I couldn’t take it anymore, it could not be all normal! So I decided to take the matter into my own hands and start researching what was wrong with me. Health sciences were a passion so I surely didn’t mind. I understood more about gut permeability, its origins and why I had so many intolerances. I will never forget that day when I went to my doctor because of another sinus infection, and as he prescribed another antibiotic treatment, I asked him “isn’t that going to really mess up with my gut and on the long run and make me even worse? All the antibiotic treatments? He looked at me puzzled –you have bacteria, you need an antibiotic. if you’re worried about that I’ll give you a probiotic to take before your antibiotic regimen”.. and I found that so wrong and shocking.. I was feeling terrible but I didn’t take the treatment. I decided to explore what I could do to improve my health and my symptoms, first looking at my nutrition. I started experimenting with an elimination diet. I was already gluten free, I removed dairies and the foods that were on the 35 intolerances list. By that time, I suspected I had what I learned as gut permeability or “ leaky gut”. I started incorporating supplements, such as taking Glutamine and pre-probiotics, making my own bone broth, avoiding alcohol and refined sugars. It took time, and surely wasn’t easy at first, but as a few weeks passed by, I felt my energy level getting better, my taste and smell were improving, I kept using a sinus rinse and so much discharge was flowing out – my sinus inflammation reduced and my headaches were gone. I felt less inflamed overall and my body was getting rid off what it needed. I kept going for a few weeks and was feeling increasingly better.
During that initial healing phase, I started questioning myself more and more on the lifestyle I was living, the career I was pursuing and the choices I made. I had the chance to have by my side an incredible support, my boyfriend (who is now my husband). He was instrumental in my recovery from my eating disorder and supported me all the way during my healing journey. He would see the toll this life I’ve built for myself had on me, physically and mentally. And me, I was slowly getting closer to my truth, realizing the disconnect between my authentic self and the life I was living based on protective mechanisms, and it often crossed my mind that all these health issues were maybe rooted in this disconnect.
We have two beautiful children together. During my pregnancies, which were 15 months apart, I had to put on hold my dietary protocols and supplements. I felt great when pregnant, maybe thanks to the changes I initially undertook, but things changed quickly once my son was born. The lack of sleep, the tiredness, the lack of physical activity, an open diet, I ended up with what I felt was a very bad immune reaction both times : the worse sinusitis, ears infections, headaches, asthma flares, exhaustion. Caring for a newborn is tough, but I was definitely worse than the average postpartum exhausted mom. I had my eardrums perforated for drainage, got MRSA(Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aerus) colonized, MRSA sinusitis. I was prescribed potent antibiotics both times for 6 weeks, and it cost me my breastfeeding.. the sinus inflammation reduced, but sadly, I was still MRSA colonized, which was really frustrating, knowing what I had to give up on… My doctor proposed another round of antibiotic as MRSA can potentially cause more severe infections, but I declined. I’m not against medicines, it will always have its place, but it didn’t bring me anything positive the first time, except destroying my gut flora and the feeling of not trusting my body.. so it didn’t feel right- my body needed to restore itself and I needed to give it a chance to strengthen and heal from within.
Following that episode, I was eager to continue what I started. I kept exploring the potential root causes for all these issues and started with changing my nutrition. As we say, food is medicine. I removed again gluten, dairies, all sugars except fruits, starches, alcohol, limited legumes and other foods I knew were irritants and potentially cause inflammation in my body. I was more aware of my stress level and started meditation. I also went back to my regular physical activity to keep me balanced. Three months later, my routine check nasal swab showed no MRSA. No joke – I couldn’t believe it! I was ecstatic – the more I decided to listen and support my body, the more it was giving back by healing itself.
A new start, a new Self
We had the opportunity to move to the US (Los Angeles) when our youngest was 4 months old. Before that move, I had the over pressing feeling to start doing something with my interests, passion and what felt more in line with who I was. I was even more motivated since I learned so much while looking for the root causes of my own health issues. I felt my purpose unfolding, I was starting to heal both mentally and physically, and I wanted to continue on that self-healing path, so that I can help others do the same one day.
I felt something had to change, so that move seemed to be coming at the right time. I believe in synchronicity and that things happen for a reason. So we trusted the process.
The move was quite a change. I was with two little ones. I wasn’t having that office life anymore and was missing the familiarity. I was in a new country, I knew no one. The protective structure I’ve built for myself all these previous years was gone. I felt raw and exposed, the feeling of starting from scratch. I needed to think and I needed to deal with certain parts of myself, re-discover who I was and let go of the protective mechanisms I’ve surrounded myself with for so long. I wanted to finally let my true-self be and become what it aspired to be. I had a lot of ego chatter, attempting to keep me in what I knew and what felt “safe”. But I would still clearly hear that voice whispering within, to embrace what this new start has to bring.
I spent a lot of time thinking, reading self-therapy help books and it started opening my eyes on the ego, childhood, past trauma and how it can affect us, I recognized a lot similar patterns with me. Then I got to discover the work of Dr Nicole Lepera, under the name of The Holistic Psychologist. That had a major impact on myself as I got to figure out and understand the source of many unresolved emotions and behaviors. The impact of my conditioning and what resulted from it, the choices I’ve made for myself in the past, the fears carried on for so long. The stress from how I lived my life for so many years had such an impact on my overall health and was a big piece of work. My body developed set points that triggered full blown chronic stress responses easily. My old habits set my nervous system in survival mode and I had to learn new ways to regulate this overworked nervous system. I had to heal my mind to heal my body. I consistently practiced daily meditation, breathing techniques, body-mind exercises, affirmations, honoring my needs and respecting my boundaries. I worked on creating a new version of myself, in line with my authentic self. Her work and her book have been instrumental in my healing journey.
During that time, I also decided to consult with a functional medicine practitioner. I could feel that my physical health was still not where it was supposed to be. The experience was so different than what I was used to! I finally had someone trying to understand the whole picture and what led me to my current situation. He took a holistic approach while using science-based tools to reveal the roots of my issues. We performed a multitude of functional lab work and results were astonishing compared to the “ no problem at all” comment I used to have on my past labs. Gut inflammation, dysbiosis, candidiasis. My hormonal system shut down, most hormone were way below the normal range, low vitamin D, low magnesium, low DHEA, low coenzyme Q10, poor detoxification. He identified that I have a single copy the C677T MTHFR gene mutation, which would explain the detoxification part.. On top of that, I had elevated liver enzymes. Alanine transaminase (ALT),aspartate transaminase (AST) alkaline phosphatase (ALP), gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) were 3 times higher than the normal range, and that was worrying. I barely drank alcohol because I have an intolerance to sulfites (and aspirin+ salicylic acid, a condition called AERD or aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease). I exercised, I led a healthy lifestyle (or thought I did), so I wasn’t expecting these results. I had no other symptoms of severe liver disease (and it wasn’t the case), my body was just in a total metabolic chaos. It was in survival mode and it had to shut down, keeping only essential functions working. Because of this MTHFR genetic mutation, my overwhelmed liver couldn’t detoxify as it was supposed to; and the heavy yeast overgrowth and candidiasis were adding to that burden: lipopolysaccharides, present in the cell wall of these gram-negative bacteria, release endotoxins upon death which penetrate the bloodstream, especially with a leaky gut syndrome, which was my case. So that added to the liver’s work. Because of my gut permeability and inflammation + dysbiosis, my thyroid function got impaired, my reverse T3 was high, and that all ends up on the liver as well, elevating enzymes. Even though I started my healing journey before these tests, they were just a reflection of the previous years of chronic stress and inadequate lifestyle, never listening to my body, until it had enough and started breaking down. I knew healing from this would take time, but is surely doable. The power of our minds can empower the inherent healing capabilities of our body.
As I continued to grow into who I aspired to become, I wanted to deepen the knowledge I gained and get the credentials I needed to concretize my new endeavors. I enrolled at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition where I obtained my Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Training Program and Gut Health Advanced Program certification. I learned so much about holistic health and the important role health coaches play in bringing balance into someone’s life to build healthier habit, beyond the food we eat. It helped me tremendously in my own healing journey as it reinforced the importance of prioritizing my own needs first as a form of self care, self love and self respect. That was such an important piece, for someone who has never been modeled self-care. I loved what I was learning and doing. Besides being busy with raising my two little ones, I used all my spare time absorbing everything I could on holistic nutrition, functional medicine and health sciences. I decided to take advanced courses in biochemistry, biology, physiology and anatomy, nutrition and medical terminology to enter a Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine.
It took me years to discover and unravel the root causes of my health problems. It has been a self-discovery process, of understanding the interconnectedness between body and mind and respecting the needs of my authentic self. Lasting healing needs to be looked at holistically and illnesses, imbalances are often rooted in the state of our mind. As we heal our minds and our trauma, we can learn healthier habits that heal our body and when our body is healed and healthy, it maintains a healthy mind. It’s a two way street.
Optimal health is being connected to your wholeness and living a holistic lifestyle
Since my last lab results, I further personalized my dietary protocols. I really learned that sugar doesn’t work for me for example, I only stick to fruits in morning and 90% dark chocolate when I feel like it. Still no gluten, dairies or anything refined/processed. After gut healing and rebalancing, I now eat for gut health and diversity and continue to include collagen and glutamine supplements every morning, besides other gut nourishing foods such as bone broth. I regularly do a pre-probiotics rebalancing cure. I aim for liver support and detoxification through nutrition and juicing and taking supplements such as B group vitamins methyfolate to manage the effects of my MTHFR genetic mutation; I support my hormonal and adrenal system while continuing to listen and respect my body’s needs. I live a balanced life that suits me and I stay aware of my triggers to manage my stress. The latter is always easier said than done, but the most important for me has been to consciously recognized when I overdo it and the effects it has on my body, to slow down to re-center myself on what I need to go back to balance.
For now I can say finally say that most of my health issues have subsided and I feel so much more empowered. It’s an ongoing work that has become my way of life: I’m aware of what works for me and what doesn’t to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. I’m still managing my sinus disease, which has always been there, but it has become much less prominent and recurrent. I used to have bad sinusitis every month with loss of smell and taste from inflammation and a cascade of other symptoms. Now half a year can pass by without having any of these symptoms, and when I do, they don’t last. Interestingly I learned that my sinus issues arise whenever I’m out of balance, consuming foods I shouldn’t like on holidays, overdoing it or not sleeping enough. When my immune system is weakened, sinus inflammation is triggered, so it’s my body’s way of telling me to take care of myself and that something is out of balance. So I listen. And we can all listen to what our body is telling us.
Healing is a long journey of self-discovery and learning, experiencing and adapting as we witness our bio-individuality and what it needs to become the best version of ourselves. There are no ends to it. It’s an ongoing work and transformation.