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Digestion & Depression: What’s the connection?

Unless you’re under the age of 7 (or male, ha!) digestion is often a taboo subject. For the most part, people just don’t like talking about poop. And as a nutritionist, poop is a big part of the puzzle when trying to assess a clients overall health. In fact, I’d be willing to say that it’s the top indicator of true health in individuals, and we should (as a society) focus more on getting ourselves to have perfect digestion before trying to achieve a perfect weight, athletic performance, or anything else. If your digestion is great then, I shit you not (pun intended), everything else will eventually fall in to place.

How do you tell if you have good digestion?

Well for starters, it shouldn’t be painful. It shouldn’t take you an hour. It shouldn’t make others reach for a gas mask or run out of the house thinking the walls will fall down. It should be comfortable and something you really don’t notice at all until you have to go to the bathroom, and it should be relatively quick and easy, overall a pleasant experience. For those of you with great digestion, you probably look forward to your daily bowel movement and even probably brag about it to someone (ADMIT IT!)

And, for those of you who are more visual learners, here’s a chart that I use with clients to help them identify what numbers they are. Ideally, we’re all Types 3 or 4. And if you’re not a 3 or 4, you’ve got some work to do.

The Bristol Stool Chart is an easy resource for you to help determine if your digestion is where it should be.

But for those who don’t have great digestion, it can cause other issues beyond physical discomfort. It can actually cause depression, anxiety, and other more serious mental issues. It can call something we refer to as “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” or GAPS.

What is GAPS?

By definition, GAPS is a condition which establishes a connection between the functions of the digestive system and the brain. The term was created by Dr. Natasha McBride in 2004 after working with hundreds of children and adults with neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as autism spectrum, ADD/ADHD, schizophrenia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, OCD, bi-polar disorder, and other neuro-pyschological and psychiatric problems. Her work showed that individuals with these disorders had 1 primary thing in common- leaky gut syndrome- and she developed the GAPS protocol, a nutritional and lifestyle protocol, to address this by healing their leaky gut. (If you aren’t familiar with or aware of leaky gut, check out this blog post for more information).

So how do you connect the dots between Digestion and the Brain?

We know that leaky gut occurs when the walls in our stomach and intestines allow toxic bacteria to leak out into our bloodstream. These displaced bacteria cause inflammation and a host of other issues, the most prominent being depression and anxiety. We also know that leaky gut and poor digestion go hand-in-hand. So, beyond leaking toxic bacteria out into your bloodstream for it to travel all throughout your body (including your brain), your body literally won’t be able to absorb the nutrients from the foods you’re consuming and leads to nutrient deficiencies (like a Vitamin D deficiency that leads to a decrease in Serotonin and Dopamine production which can cause depression… see how this all adds up?).

So if you’re someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, take a look at the stool chart and see where you rate. If you’re a 3 or 4, then it may be safe to say that something else may be causing your depression and anxiety. But if you’re not a 3 or 4, take a look at your diet. You can heal leaky gut syndrome and experience the ‘side effects’ of improved mood, better sleep, higher energy levels, and better digestion!

How do I heal leaky gut and improve my digestion?

The easiest things you can do right away to improve your digestion is to drink plenty of water, limit alcohol and caffeine, eat whole foods (NOT processed junk), avoid wheat (gluten) and avoid added/refined sugars. I guarantee just doing this for just a week alone will yield improvements!

If you suffer from depression or anxiety and have any questions about any of this, please feel free to reach out! Even if you don’t want to work with a nutritionist at this time, I’m more than happy to help point you in the direction of some resources that may help. 🙂

Hunting: My Perspective

Why I started hunting in the first place

(**Bear with me, this is a long one!**)

If you ask my husband he’ll tell you I started elk hunting after our freezer went empty for a few years after he had a few unsuccessful archery hunts. And he’s partially right about that. 😉 But really what made me realize I wanted to try elk hunting was my graduation from my nutrition therapy program.

You see, as a holistic nutritionist there are so SO many things you cannot un-know or un-learn. We research and study about the health benefits of conventionally-raised/harvested animals vs. organic and free-range. We study about how the different lifestyles of these groups of animals impact the health of their own lives and well-being. And at the end of the day, animals that are free to roam as they please and consume the food they’re supposed to in their natural habitat, you get a high quality animal/meat that’s highly nutritious.

Beyond the health benefits, I really wanted to practice what I preach. As much as the actual harvesting of the animal terrified me and made me sad at the thought of it, I wanted to put those feelings aside and prove to myself that I am a provider. And if I could see where that animal came from, be the person who harvested it, be the one who processed and consumed it, then I would better understand and appreciate where my food comes from.

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. Now, truthfully, I come from a long line of hunters. I grew up in Central Pennsylvania where schools are closed (or they used to be) the Monday after Thanksgiving because it’s the first day of deer season. And given that I was dedicated to my tomboy-ness, I ‘hunted’ with my dad in the freezing cold while my sister slept in, in her cozy bed, and took advantage of not having school that day. I put ‘hunted’ in quotes above because white tail deer hunting in PA typically involves sitting in a tree stand and waiting (in the freezing cold) for a deer to appear and then you try to shoot it. It was the worst. I hated the cold, I got bored, I only focused on when I could eat the snacks I packed, and to my father’s disappointment- I never got anything despite having been a great shot with my rifle. I knew deep down that I just could not kill an animal. I loved their brown eyes and sweet faces and I would think about their families, I just could not bring myself to do it. While those feelings are still with me to this day, my mindset and perspective is totally different. I view hunting as the ability to ethically harvest an animal and put healthy, quality food on the table for myself and my family. Nothing goes to waste, and my respect and appreciation for the animals I harvest are beyond measure.

Now, before I get in to all the things I’ve learned during my 3 elk hunts, I will say this. If you’re reading this and thinking ‘I could never kill an animal’ and you consume meat- you’re wrong. By voting with your dollars and purchasing meat, you are, essentially, killing animals. And if they’re conventionally raised and harvested, then I encourage you to learn more about what the lives of those animals are like. The documentary, American Meat, provides a great look and comparison of conventional and free-range animal farming, along with solutions that people can take to support American agriculture.

What I’ve learned while hunting

Even though I’ve hunted and harvested elk for the past 3 years, I’ve learned so much with each and every hunt. Every hunt that I’ve had has been entirely different than the one before, but I am so incredibly grateful for each one. Here are the highlights of each of my hunts.

2017: My first elk hunt and to say I was terrified was an understatement. I was scared that the hunters around me would be careless and I was scared that I’d chicken out if given the opportunity to harvest an elk. I hunted outside of Alamosa, Colorado, which is sandy desert with sage brush (no trees), so mornings were frigid and afternoons were blazing hot. Add to that we hiked no less than 6 miles one way, multiple times a day (IN SAND), it was a physically challenging hunt. The morning of the 3rd day of my 5 day hunt, I finally had a bull elk close enough to feel comfortable taking the shot. It took me almost an hour to make that first shot. I was so scared, and I felt so bad for this animal whose life was about to end, but I had a job to do. I finally mustered up the courage and I did it. And I bawled. And bawled some more. I had the honor to watch these animals the previous 2 days and now I harvested one myself, nobody else, it was me. It may sound weird, but the love and respect I already had for those animals swelled to a whole other level and I was honored to have been able to harvest such a magnificent animal who would nourish my family so well. Beyond that, I learned that:

• I can do hard things
• I can put aside my fears to accomplish what I set out to achieve
• I can provide food for my family

2017 sunrise along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.

2018: My second elk hunt was definitely something I wish everyone in this world could experience at least once in their life. I was lucky enough to draw a license for a unit outside of Creede, Colorado, truly God’s country. It’s everything a non-Coloradoan envisions Colorado to be. High elevation, stunning views, challenging terrain, and a ton of elk. My husband and I spent a few days scouting the area and on opening day we knew where we were heading to. With the bulls bugling nonstop, we hiked in over 6.5 miles to the place where I harvested my bull. I could go in to crazy details about each of these hunts, but long story short, we had to hike out 13 miles to get out to a road all while carrying hundreds of pounds of meat on our backs. That 13 mile hike included over a mile down off a mountainside in the dark, hearing mountain lions all around us. That 13 mile hike also included 15 river crossings… at one point around 2 am (in sub-zero temps), we tried to make a fire to warm and dry our feet and the only way it would warm you is if you literally sat in the fire itself. It sounds like hell on earth, but I loved every moment. We’d hike a little, then shut our headlamps off and rest for a few minutes and look up at the sky. We’d watch countless shooting stars and hear endless elk bugles all night long. We finally made it out of the woods around 8 am the following morning, and I waltzed up to an old ranch hand and asked him for a ride to our camp which was still about 7 miles away. The memories and friendships made will last me a lifetime. On that hunt I learned:

• ‘I didn’t come this far to only come this far’- elk are incredibly smart and elusive, and I knew hunters would quickly push the animals far back within the canyon I was at… I just kept going and kept hiking, believing if I put in the work then I would reap the reward
• There are genuinely good people in this world, and finding and connecting with them is such a blessing
• I am capable of asking for help when I need to- this is hard for me, I’ve always tried to do absolutely everything for myself without ever asking for help. It took everything in me to ask that ranch hand for help, and the warm reception (of hot coffee and cookies) was just the best

2018- My husband in the doorway of our camper, with a family of moose just across the pond.

2019: I thought my 2018 hunt was hard, physically and mentally, but this year had something else in store for me. My husband took me to Rico, Colorado for my elk hunt and boooyyyyyy it was a doozy. For starters, it was incredibly dry so any step in the woods sounded like Gabriel’s trumpet sounding from Heaven’s gates… Add to that, the majority of the terrain would be considered a cliff by most people it was so steep, and elevation over 9,000 ft always makes things interesting for the lungs. This was the first hunt where I didn’t even see an elk with my own two eyes for the first three days. I heard them, but I couldn’t get close enough to see them (mostly because I was busy falling (read: CRASHING) down the mountainside to look for them. And I wasn’t going to share this, but I feel lead to because it was such a huge lesson for me. My number one fear (beyond wreckless hunters), is to wound an animal. I never ever want an animal to suffer. On the morning of day 3, I was feeling discouraged from not seeing any elk and having so much knee pain from this insane terrain, that I got desperate when we spotted a bull that was over 800 yards away. I got down in the meadow across from him and placed my rifle on a rock, adjusted the turret on my scope, and settled in to take the shot. I truly felt like I couldn’t pass him up and was worried he’d be the only bull I’d see… I shot 5 times. I thought I hit him with the last one, but couldn’t be sure because he quickly ran in to the woods. My husband went and searched for him for 4 hours- nothing… not a drop of blood, not a track, nothing. I have not cried that hard since the day my grandfather died. The thought of me possibly wounding an animal just guts me, but my husband has reassured me that there’s no evidence to point to me wounding the animal. But I can’t stop thinking about it. Every single day I head out to hunt, I pray and ask God for protection and wisdom to make good decisions. And in my desperation to fill my tag, I let wisdom fly out the window and took a shot that I was not comfortable in taking. I was so (and still am) unbelievably disappointed in myself and my lack of thoughtfulness in that moment. Fast forward to the final day of the hunt, and I faced a similar situation. In my head I’m just thinking that it’s the last day of the hunt and every second is ticking away at my chances of harvesting an elk. My husband spotted a small group of elk across the canyon from us, and he ranged him at 880 yards. Can you believe that I actually crawled up behind a log, propped up my rifle, and took my rifle off safety? I did. And then I put the safety on and looked at my husband and said ‘No, I’m not doing this.’ He totally understand and supported my decision, but then the elk started to walk toward us. So we adjusted our position to where my potential shot would be 200 yards or less (I’m very comfortable with shots up to about 600 yards), but the elk never came. At that moment I was at peace with the fact that I wouldn’t get an elk, and it’s OK. But that’s when my husband saw the elk had moved again, and we were able to close the distance significantly. I was able to comfortably harvest my bull and fill my freezer. And although I wish it had been on day 1 and not day 5, I had learned some incredible lessons on my journey.

• Trust God- every day I pray for wisdom, and yet my desperation threw wisdom out the window even though my gut was telling me I wasn’t comfortable taking that shot on that first bull. I need to listen to my gut (to me that’s God nudging me).
• Patience- if I learned the previous year that putting in hard work will yield rewards, then I learned that consistently putting in hard work day after day will yield rewards, it just may not be as fast or look the way you want it to

2019- Me, carrying the last part of my bull that I harvested at 10,500 ft on the last day of the season.

My favorite part of hunting

I love the mountains, I love sunrises and sunsets, I love to watch all of the animals we encounter, I love to prove to myself that I can do hard things, and most of all I love the time shared outdoors with my husband. We have some pretty awesome conversations and I come away from every hunt feeling closer to him. (He’s a pretty great guy, and I couldn’t do this without him). He is in his element when we’re out hunting, and he’s such a great coach to me. He pushes me (but not to the point where I get mad), and he makes me want to be better and do better, and I want to make him proud. I couldn’t be more grateful for our time together during these hunts.

Final Thoughts

A lot of hunting has to do with conservation. I don’t think most people realize that the money hunters spend on licenses gets used for conservation efforts of our national forests, etc. Beyond that, when states release licenses for hunters, they do so based on healthy herd sizes. In an effort to protect land (elk can be very destructive), biologists work to monitor herd sizes and ensure health bull-to-cow ratios, and so hunting licenses are issued accordingly in promoting health herds across our state.

Not all hunters are poachers. For the most part, people who hunt do so legally and ethically. That’s not to say some people literally only hunt for the trophy/antlers, but there are a lot of rules and regulations in place to protect our wildlife and most hunters respect and honor that. Don’t assume that anyone who hunts is willing to kill an animal at any given point in time.

The actual harvest, for me, is the worst part. That’s when the incredible amount of work begins of processing the animal. But being out in nature and seeing these animals in their natural habitat, watching the sunrises and sunsets, the shooting stars (!), experiencing the extreme temperature changes… it’s incredible and truly an experience I wish everyone could have. There’s nothing like seeing the sun come over a mountain peak, or to see and hear an elk bugle, or watch a bear entertain itself from a distance. The beauty that surrounds us never ceases to amaze me and I am truly blessed to have the opportunity to witness it firsthand.

If you have any questions or thoughts about hunting (as long as they’re thoughtful and respectful), I’d love to hear them.

Mindset: The #1 factor in your success

With today being the first day of a new month and the beginning of the final quarter of 2019, I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering where this year has gone. I’ve been reflecting a lot about this past year in relation to where I thought I’d be by this point in time, and I’ve got some work to do in order to reach my goals. I could spend hours stewing on all the different ways I’ve not measured up when it comes to building my business or my personal health goals, but I know better than to do that. Besides, I can pinpoint the one single thing that’s prevented me from reaching my goals: my mindset.

When it comes to any challenge in our lives, whether it be health, business, relationships… our mindset matters MOST in determining whether or not we’ll find success. When we get our mind right, things just seem to happen a little bit easier for us, doesn’t it?

There are so many different ways our attitude (and mindset) can impact our lives. Did you know that there is actual scientific evidence that proves the power of a positive attitude when it comes to health outcomes? It’s true! Johns Hopkins even cites a positive attitude as a component of aging well, and those with positive attitudes are much more likely to have better outcomes when faced with serious health issues like heart disease, traumatic brain injury, and stroke.

Beyond the power of positivity, simply having a can-do attitude about situations sets people apart from one another when facing certain challenges. I’ve talked about aspects of this in social media posts from time to time because I see a lot of different attitudes with the work that I do, especially as it relates to making changes to ones lifestyle to address a specific health need, and I can usually determine within a 5 minute conversation whether or not an individual will have an ‘easy’ time reaching their health goals, or if it will be a bit more challenging for them. With nutrition therapy, I always design a protocol for clients based on what their goals are in relation to their individual health assessment. These protocols typically involve making a good number of changes to a clients’ lifestyle in order to help them reach their goals, and quite honestly, it’s a LOT of work for my clients to make these changes. That’s not to say that it’s bad or really hard, but it requires a mental shift to embrace the fact that they’re going to have to do some work and make some changes along the way. (Remember, a protocol only works if you put it to work for you!) I’ve had prospective clients flat out tell me they won’t change certain aspects of their eating even though they know those eating habits aren’t good for them. I’ve also had prospective clients tell me that their intent in working with me is so that they can clean up their habits for a short period of time to alleviate health symptoms, but they plan to go back to those bad habits once their symptoms are alleviated… (THIS MAKES NO SENSE TO ME). To me, this shows that they aren’t mentally prepared yet to make a true commitment to themselves in order to achieve improved health.

On the flipside, I’ve had the pleasure of working with clients who are fully ready and mentally prepared to take on a challenge. I have one client right now who has had to implement the toughest protocol I’ve ever developed. For starters, she’s had to eliminate close to 40 foods that she’s highly reactive to… she’s now the most creative home chef I’ve ever heard of and has embraced this so well she’s even started her own blog to document it and share it with others! Even though her ‘diet’ is limited at the moment, instead of focusing on what she can’t have she’s focused on all the food she CAN have and appreciates how these foods make her feel. And while she’s seen huge success so far when it comes to weight loss, the biggest shift she’s experienced is in her mindset… beyond the kitchen, she’s seeing a ripple effect in other areas of her life too. She’s got a crazy stressful job and she feels she’s better suited to deal and roll with the stressors that she’s presented with every day. And instead of wanting to stress eat, she shifts her thoughts to focusing on the future and what lies ahead of her. She sets goals, achieves them, sets new goals, and keeps moving forward.

Now, given all the successes, that doesn’t mean that it’s all rainbows and unicorns everyday. This is hard work to remain in a positive mindset when surrounded by so much negativity in this world. Add to that unsupportive people or individuals who just don’t ‘get’ what it is you’re doing, things can get tough! That’s why it’s important to stay focused on your goals and remember why you started in the first place. Mindset work takes time, it’s a commitment, and something you have to train and work just like a muscle. And just like everything else in life, consistency is key to your success.

Here are some tips on how you can train yourself to have a more positive, can-do mindset!

1. Seek out the good in people, don’t assume the worst
2. Smile and laugh more
3. Practice reframing- focus on the things you have control over and not the things in which you can’t control
4. Start a gratitude practice- every day, write down the things you’re grateful for, when you train your brain to seek out the blessings in your life, the more they’ll become apparent all
around you
5. Build resiliency- learn how to accept that change is part of life, take action on problems rather than waiting for a situation to resolve itself
6. Write down your goals and keep them in a place where you can see them every day- having a constant reminder of what you’re working toward simply keeps them top of mind and help you stay
committed to your goals, and yourself.

A much needed mindset adjustment

I’ve been pretty quiet on my blog and I gotta be honest, I’ve been feeling less than inspired as of late. Starting a new path in life is hard, and the past few months I’ve allowed a lot of self-doubt to creep in to my head and I’ve been struggling with feelings of inadequacy and wondering if I’ve made a mistake or if I’m truly doing what I’m meant to do.

Where do these feelings come from? For starters, I know these feelings come from years of being less than kind to myself and allowing others to be less than kind to me too. I grew up in a household where comparison was constant because I have 5 siblings, and the worst comparisons were made (and still are) between my twin sister and I. She was the skinny, pretty twin. I was the chubby, smart twin. It sounds silly but those really were our identities when we were younger and it did not lead to a great place in our relationship. My twin and I were estranged for close to 20 years because of all the repercussions of those stupid labels. What a waste of life, feeling like part of your heart was missing, all over labels that people forced on you. On top of that, as the ‘smart’ one (which drives me nuts because my twin is incredibly intelligent), I still had a parent tell me that I’d never get in to college. So these feelings of ‘less than’ are deep-rooted.

And labels are hard to move away from. Beyond my chubby, smart label, I was also the independent, rebellious kid who left my home state for the farthest point away (in the contiguous U.S.) after college with both middle fingers in the air, vowing never to return. At 22, I was dealing with these same feelings of inadequacy. I wanted so badly to build my own identity that I could be proud of. And, for the most part, I was proud of who I was becoming. I had a budding career, overcame some serious health issues, was living on my own and paying my student loans and medical bills, and was really proud of myself never once asking anyone for help. But, despite all of that, I still allowed certain people in my life to treat me as though I was inadequate. I allowed a boyfriend of mine to ‘encourage’ me to lose weight, while constantly putting down my family’s blue collar roots. I allowed a boss to repeatedly call me a ‘bitch’ (NOT KIDDING) because I beat him at xbox, in addition to allowing him to control nearly every aspect of my life. I had another boss who deliberately scheduled an out-of-state work assignment on what was to have been my wedding day, and because I was dumb enough to be committed to that job I actually cancelled my wedding plans and we got married at the courthouse (I lost that job 2 days after we got married)… and it’s hard for me not to feel as though I’ve brought it on myself. On the other hand, these experiences make me value and appreciate where I’m at today. I have the cutest husband, a restored relationship with my twin sister, I have my own business… so why am I feeling so freaking insecure at this particular moment?

Truthfully, it’s just a bunch of different little things. I have had a couple conversations in the past week that didn’t sit well with me. One woman decided to share with me that I’m irresponsible for having left my corporate job, while another told me it’s cute that I sell makeup… I didn’t feel the need to try and validate myself to these women who know nothing about me, but it did get in my head a little. Then, I’ve had friends send me links to jobs they think I should apply for, and while I know it’s well-intentioned, it makes me wonder if they believe I should be pursuing my passion because if they did believe in me, why the hell are they sending me jobs to apply for? And on top of all that, I have been in my head a lot lately about my own self-worth. I left a cushy 6-figure career to start my nutrition therapy practice and there are times when I think “WTF DID I DO?!” I love the work that I do, I love helping people take control of their health, and I love building awareness on the simple things we can do to live happier, healthier lives… and I can’t lie, I do miss my old paycheck. I tied a lot of my identity to my salary, and even though I don’t actually notice a difference financially, it’s still something I struggle with. I know I’ll get there again one day, but not ‘contributing’ to my household the way I used to has messed with my head a little bit. (And no, at no point has my husband ever brought this up- this is all me. He’s been incredibly supportive of this transition.) Then I think that people won’t take me seriously as a nutritionist, and this imposter syndrome/attitude comes up. Looking at other nutritionists on social media, they seem to have it all figured out. Beautiful profiles, fancy pictures, the perfect captions… and then the actual physical comparisons we go through…‘Nutritionists should be skinny, I’m not skinny, nobody would want to work with a nutritionist who isn’t skinny’. Comparison is the root of all evil, I know this, but when you’re feeling insecure in the slightest, this is where comparison will just pummel you down even more. I am so f-ing done with it, I just want to get to the point where I’m comfortable in fully owning ME and who I am and what I stand for.

I’m not writing any of this to get any amount of sympathy, I just felt it on my heart today to share what I’m feeling , why I’ve been quiet, and how I plan to tackle it head on. My husband and I do a 3 week cleanse every year to reset ourselves before we start our (literal) hunt and gather season. We eat pretty darn healthy to begin with, but we’ll be 100% plant-based for the next 21 days. On top of that, I’ll be stepping back a bit from social media. I’m giving myself space to work through these thoughts and emotions I’ve been having lately so that I can release what no longer serves me. I know deep down that I have something to give, I know I am meant to do this work and I know that I add value. Toxic thoughts and emotions have energy and that energy can weigh us down, and I am so ready to get rid of it and move on.

So, I’m going to come back refreshed and energized. I’ll be keeping a journal of my experience and will share when I’m ready. This level of self-care is much needed.

For me this is personal- Type 3 Diabetes

This was actually supposed to be my very first blog post… one that I’ve started at stop no less than 30 times over the past 7 months. Every time I start I get so overwhelmed with emotion and before I know it, I’ve written a novel and the marketer in me knows that ‘good’ blogs aren’t too terribly long and are ‘scannable’ and easy to read… and I just haven’t been able to fit this subject into what is deemed ‘good’. So I’m breaking the rules and ignoring what I ‘should’ do. I’m hopeful you’ll read this and hopeful that maybe it’ll resonate with you, maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s selfishly therapeutic so here goes.

My handsome grandfather, John.

A lover of suspenders and snap-up shirts with double pockets on his chest, my grandfather always lived life to the fullest.

A lot of people know that my grandfather was really important to me. When my twin and I were just days old, my dad took us to meet him and apparently when my dad arrived at my grandpa’s house it was feeding time. So my dad threw me (not literally) and a bottle in the arms of my grandpa and he fed me. Shocker- he won my heart via my stomach and our bond was unwavering from that moment forward. He was my person, my best friend. He taught me so many things! He taught me how shoot a gun with both eyes open, he taught me how to drive, he taught me the importance of hard work and a good education, in addition to the art of ‘bullshitting’. He taught me about economics (‘Nelle, what do you think about the price of eggs in outer Mongolia?’) and how to trade stocks online, how to save and invest for my future, how to do my taxes… He taught me the best way to cure a cold is to take a shot of Wild Turkey and head to bed. He would always tell me I was beautiful when others were making fun of me for being overweight and having bucked teeth. And he would also tell me that I could do or be anything that I wanted as long as I was willing to work for it. He came and rescued me the morning my mom left my dad when I was 16… just 3 days prior to that he woke me up at 5:30 in the morning with Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little 16” blaring on his jukebox to wish me a happy birthday. And he gave the BEST hugs.

He grew up very poor and as the only boy in the family, started working on a farm at a very young age. He served in the Korean War where he earned a Bronze star, and when he got home he worked 3 jobs to support his family while simultaneously earning his degree in accounting. He started his own accounting firm which still stands today in Palmyra, PA. During tax season, the only way I’d get to see him was to have my parents take me to his office where I could squeeze hugs in between his client appointments. He was a work hard, play hard kind of man who loved country western movies and music, and especially John Wayne. And during the summers, we’d get to go spend a couple of weeks at a time with my grandparents (and my parents only lived 5 miles away) and we’d play in the pool, ride horses, ‘camp’ in the backyard (in a camper… in the middle of town).

Even with all that I’ve written about him so far, I feel like I’m not even scratching the surface of who my grandfather was. He had a larger than life personality and an incredibly huge heart. I know that he wasn’t perfect, but to me he was.

I also learned about Type 2 Diabetes as a young child and open heart surgery. He would sit us down and make us prick our fingers to test our blood sugar levels ever so often. Thankfully, my twin and I never had issues but we learned the numbers to know when my grandpa needed to adjust his insulin, which we also learned how to give him those shots at a young age. I learned what Diabetic Shock is, and it’s quite terrifying. We had taken a trip to Disney World with my grandparents when we were 10, and after a long day in Magic Kingdom my grandfather’s speech started to become slurred and he had difficulty walking and seeing. Once we got him back to our hotel room he started to convulse and my grandmother sent me out to find the fastest meal (a cheeseburger) to get to him to help bring his sugar levels back up. I was terrified. I thought in that moment that I lost my best friend in the happiest place on earth… thankfully it was the only time I saw him go into shock like that, but it stuck with me. He also had a 7-bypass open heart surgery in 1987… I don’t know how much you know about that, but it’s a BIG deal. He was told that he’d be lucky to live another 5 years after that surgery, and knowing how stubborn he was it really wasn’t a surprise that he lived another 24 years after that surgery. (Seriously- THAT is incredible!!!)

A teddy bear in real life.

A huge civil war fan, my grandfather would always visit the Boyd’s Bears store during his trips to Gettysburg.

He would take nitroglycerin tablets for his chest pains every once in a while, but other than that we all thought he could just manage his diabetes by adjusting his insulin according to his blood sugar levels. His doctors said he could drink all the diet, sugar-free sodas he wanted to, but beyond that he really only had to avoid sugary sweets (like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, those were his fave). So instead of those sweets, he replaced them with sugar-free pudding, sugar-free fudgesicles and creamsicles… He loved hamburgers with tons of ketchup on top… he would go through CASES of those diet sodas each week, and BOXES of those popsicles a day. And all we’d do was check his blood sugar twice a day and adjust his insulin dose appropriately. He lived like this for decades.

Then, one day he started repeating himself, A LOT. He also misplaced a large sum of money, which was not characteristic of a man who knew where every penny was at any given time. He’d be driving along somewhere and forget where he was going so he’d turn around and go home. It got to the point where he didn’t ever leave the house. He would sit and ask my grandmother (and anyone else around), the same question of “what are we doing now?” (among others). My grandfather, who once was obsessed with personal hygiene, stopped bathing. And then one day, after being home for a weekend from college to visit, he completely broke down when I was leaving and told him I was heading back to Penn State because I had class the next day. In that moment, my grandfather realized that he couldn’t remember the past few years when I graduated high school and left for college. In that moment he wept in disbelief and horror and thought we were playing a cruel prank on him. The next moment it was gone as if something so traumatic had never happened. I was gutted. To see my grandfather so upset crushed me. Besides the one time he and I saw Saving Private Ryan together, I had never seen my grandfather cry before and in that moment he wept. It was a glimpse of the man (or mind) that he once was and had. My grandpa had Alzheimer’s.

In the years following his Alzheimer’s diagnosis it became more challenging to manage his diabetes (he couldn’t remember what he ate!) and his heart health continued to decline. At one point doctors said only 25% of his heart was actually functioning, and they believed that contributed to the Alzheimer’s because so much less oxygen was getting to his brain. My grandmother and Dad were his caretakers for a few years before he finally was placed in a nursing home where they made him shave his trademark silver beard. Then, one day, my grandfather asked a nurse if she could please help him out of his wheelchair and over to sit down on a couch, where he passed away peacefully. I cannot begin to tell you how I feel writing this, it’s as if it happened yesterday. It kills me that I wasn’t there with him, but I know that he’s at peace and he’s got his mind and health back. He’s probably now living out his wildest dreams of riding horses and being the cowboy he always wanted to be.

Always a beautiful smile.

Celebrating his 80th birthday.

It may sound strange, but I cannot help but feel guilt about how my grandfather and his health ended up. My grandfather lived life to the fullest ALL the time, and with that came a constant state of stress that his body was in. From trying to manage his diabetes to his heart issues, his body was constantly fighting to get itself to a state of normal. And the food that his doctors said were OK for him only poisoned him more.

When I decided to check out Nutrition Therapy programs, I went to audit a class at the Nutrition Therapy Institute where I went on to earn my certification from. I took off of work and was so excited to go sit in on a Nutrients class. During that class we discussed the chemical structure of sugar and had an in-depth discussion on the effects sugar had on the body. To say what happened next was mind-blowing is an understatement. We got in to a discussion of how when we consume sugar, our bodies release insulin in an effort to normalize our blood sugar levels. In turn, when insulin is released, or bodies also release cortisol (the stress hormone) as a way to get the rest of the endocrine system to wake up and fix whatever is wrong in the body. Now, over time, this stress response will erode the coverings of the nerves in your brain (called myelin sheaths), which basically act like little conductors between the nerves that help our nerves essentially ‘connect the dots’. When those little conductors wear away, they aren’t able to connect with each other and signals in the brain aren’t able to be completed, resulting in memories issues, etc… At that point, a lightbulb went off in my head and I raised my hand and asked my professor if she felt there was a correlation between diabetes and Alzheimer’s to which she responded “Dear, we refer to Alzheimer’s as Type 3 Diabetes.”

Now, this isn’t the ONLY way that Alzheimer’s can happen to us, but it’s a big one. And when you think about the fact that over 30M Americans have some form of diabetes and over 80M Americans are pre-diabetic, this is a BIG deal. It’s a health crisis. I’ve witnessed a lot of health issues in my life, but Alzheimer’s is the most disgusting, horrifying disease and I would not wish it on anyone. It robs you of your mind, it robs caretakers of their own health and well-being, and it takes such an emotional toll on everyone in the situation that I’m still not sure if you ever are really able to recover from that.

I often think about what I could’ve done to help my grandfather. Still. What if we had known those sugar-free sodas were so toxic? What if we had insisted that he eat real food instead of all those sugar-free treats? What if we had been more vigilant about the amount of ketchup he put on his hamburgers??? What if we had realized the constant state of stress that his body was under (because it was always working in overdrive to ‘fix’ itself), that we had considered effective ways to reduce his stress? Seriously, I think about that almost every day and I feel guilt over all the things I didn’t know back then. He deserved better than what he got.

After that class, I decided to enroll to get my Certification in Nutrition Therapy. I honestly had no intention at the time to leave corporate America to do this full-time, I just thought that I’d like to help people on the side in hopes of even preventing 1 person from ending up like my grandpa. So he’s a big part of my why. If I can help bring more awareness around how importance it is to naturally be able to manage blood sugars and stress in the body, I am here for it! It’s what I choose to do to honor him.

GMOs: What you need to know

I’ve talked before in social media posts about the importance of choosing foods that are as close to their natural state as possible in an effort to obtain optimal health. If you think about it, any food that we consume that is closest its most natural, primal form is going to be the best option for us. Why? Well, for starters, foods that are in their most primal form are higher in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), free from pesticides and herbicides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Obviously vitamins and minerals are good for us and we get those on some level in most types of food, whether they be whole foods or processed foods ‘enriched’ with those micronutrients. But it’s when we start to mess with the food we consume that the quality of the micronutrients starts to deteriorate. A lot of people assume they can simply wash off pesticides from their produce and the food is fine but, like human skin, a lot of our produce skin/shells/peels absorb those chemicals and you still end up consuming them. Add to that a fruit or vegetable grown from a GMO seed, and the actual quality of the food you’re consuming (even though it’s a fruit or vegetable and automatically assumed to be healthy) begins to further diminish.

A typical roadside produce stand

A beautiful country produce stand. <3

GMOs have become accepted in society today because they are so widely used and certainly do have ‘benefits’ (albeit not benefits for your health, more so for the business side of the agricultural world). Like the name states, GMOs are modified to be able to withstand a multitude of environmental factors so that they can continue to grow and be plentiful in an effort to mitigate any crop loss and in turn, lost profits. GMO crop seeds can be altered so that the crop will be able to grow with less water if a farmer is in an area of the country that’s drier, GMO crop seeds can be altered to grow faster if a growing season is shorter in a certain area of the country, a GMO seed can be altered to deter certain pests and bugs that would be a natural threat to a crop… now, clearly there are a lot of advantages, from a business perspective, for using GMO seeds for crops as they can help mitigate uncontrollable situations that can have harmful and adverse effects on a farmers crop and livelihood. BUT, would we as a society be OK if we decided we wanted to alter human genetics and find a way to ‘grow a baby’ in its mothers womb in any timeframe shorter than 9 months? Or find a way to ensure that a baby had blue eyes or would grow to reach a height of at least 5’8”? No. We would NOT be OK with that, so why are we OK with modifications to our food chain that exists to nourish and support our health and well-being?

There are greater costs than crop production

Environmental: GMO crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable due to their detrimental impact on natural habitats and species.

Human Health Implications: GMOs were introduced in 1996, so we are really only scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the long-term implications of GMOs in our food chain. Animal (unfortunately) studies have shown GMOs to cause organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies have shown that GMO foods leave material behind inside us and a great example of that is the toxic insecticide of GMO corn being found in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn fetuses. Beyond that, numerous health problems have increased since 1996. More Americans suffer from chronic illnesses more than ever before, food allergies have skyrocketed (in my kindergarten class we actually could eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cough cough) in addition to autism, reproductive disorders, and digestive problems being on the rise since GMO introduction. To top if off, our cows are treated with GMO Growth Hormone, which in turn has shown that cows milk from treated cows contain higher amounts of hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1)- which has been linked to cancer.

Who is going to protect us against harmful GMOs?

You. You are who is most going to protect you from GMOs. Each of us is responsible for our own health, safety, wellbeing, and happiness. Educate and empower yourself about where your food comes from, how it’s grown, how it can impact your health. Unfortunately, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require a single safety study, nor do they require the labeling of GMOs, and they allow companies to put their GMO foods in to marketing without even notifying the agency. They claim they have no solid information showing that GMO foods are any more harmful or different than, say, organic foods. Even though the science is there to show and prove the harmful effects on our population, and that as a nation we are sicker than ever, our government does not see food quality and safety as a priority (even when healthcare is truly a national crisis at this point).

You CAN shop wisely! Lists like the Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen were created to help you navigate a produce department and get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. The Clean 15 is comprised of the ‘cleanest’, least-contaminated conventional produce items that are deemed safe to eat in their conventional state. The Dirty Dozen is comprised of fruits and vegetables that should be purchased in their organic state, as they are either likely GMO or highly permeable and susceptible to herbicides and pesticides that we can end up ingesting.

My pie in the sky dream is for one day the conversation to not be about GMOs at all. I recognize the ‘benefit’ (from a business standpoint) to the American farmer as I have farmers in my family and I know how incredibly hard they work every single day. (Talk about a profession that doesn’t allow for much, if any vacation!) Their livelihood depends on the ability to farm in a way that ensures crop safety and durability, I get it. Small family farming operations are the heart of this country and it’s very near and dear to my heart. I just hope that one day we get to a point where our health as a society is a priority again, and sustainable, organic farming is the expected norm, not the exception. We as consumers can vote with our dollars by choosing safer food options for ourselves and the environment. When we do that, you increase the demand for those products and over time, can actually normalize an industry. We can also encourage our lawmakers to value people over profits, and to drive the food (and pharmaceutical industry) to overhaul our system so that it truly benefits the citizens, and not the large corporations who ultimately profit from our illness.

We deserve better for us, our children, our children’s children. We know better, now let’s do better.

Family farming operation in Annville, Pennsylvania.

A hot summer morning overlooking my hometown of Annville, Pennsylvania.