Ep 1 Michelle’s Story

*CONTENT NOTE: In this episode, there is mention of suicidal thoughts*

Seven years ago I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.  It took several years to get the diagnosis.  I used to be a personal trainer, a figure competitor, and marathon runner.  I was starting to get hit by debilitating fatigue, extremely painful and heavy periods, and eventually bloody diarrhea, 10-15 times a day.  I had already been on and off elimination diets for competitions so removing food groups wasn’t too difficult, but it didn’t really help.  I was keeping myself busy with multiple jobs, holding myself together with cortisol and caffeine and once I stopped, I could not get going again.

It wasn’t until I was tested for food allergies and found the Paleo anti-inflammatory diet that I was able to finally start reversing the symptoms and reach remission.

Your mileage may vary! My work is all about customizing to the individual to find a protocol that works for their unique biochemical situation, so don’t take my story as a cure-all protocol to be followed blindly.

If you want a research-backed gut healing diet to reverse your systems and reset your relationship with food, visit goodpoopersclub.com to get the scoop.

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Music credit: “New Way Forward” by Young Presidents

A Podcast Launch Bestie production

Welcome to Science and Shit, the podcast where I show you how a healthy gut leads to a happier life. I’m your host, Michelle Casey. I’m a functional health coach who specializes in all things digestion, from heartburn to IBS to auto immune inflammatory bowel disease. I’ve seen it all. I’ve spent the last eight years in private practice helping people with chronic illness, reverse their symptoms and live their best lives. In this podcast, you will get empowered about what you can do to impact your health naturally. I’ll help you sort through the information overwhelm to figure out what’s relevant to you. If you want a holistic scientific approach, you’ve come to the right place! 

All right, first things first, if we’re going to talk about holistic health, we need to first acknowledge that white supremacy and colonization has wiped out much indigenous wisdom all over the world. And has led to gross disparities in equity and health care access. The ʻāina (land) on which I live and work is located in the ahupuaʻa (subdivision) of Kaloko, in the moku (district) of Kona, on the mokopuni (island) of Hawai’i, in the paeʻāina (nation) of Hawai’i. I recognize that Her Majesty Queen Liliʻuokalani yielded the Hawaiian Kingdom and these territories under duress and protest to the United States to avoid the bloodshed of her people. I also want to acknowledge that the Hawai’i that we enjoy today was very much shaped in a holistic and sustainable way by many generations of indigenous Hawaiians, Polynesian people. For these people, and for this work, I express my deep reverence and gratitude. Mahalo nui loa. 

It’s important to recognize and acknowledge the history of the land that we live on. Even though you or I may not be directly responsible for the harms done to native peoples. All of us non natives who live in the United States directly benefit from this harm. If you want to learn more about the land you’re on, you can start by entering your ZIP code at the native land website at Native-land.ca. 

Now let’s jump into today’s episode. Let’s get this party started.

Welcome! In this episode, I’m going to be sharing all my secrets about how I reversed my autoimmune symptoms with nutritional therapy. Obviously, your mileage may vary. This is me sharing my story and what worked for my body. In fact, I have been very reluctant to share this publicly before now because one of my biggest pet peeves is when practitioners or bloggers or whoever just post their supplement protocols or what they did to heal, and then other people just blindly follow them. My work is all about customizing to the individual and making sure that everything we’re doing takes into account your unique biochemical situation. Hopefully, I can fulfill my goal here of sharing this in such a way that you can map on the principles of what I’m sharing to your specific life and your specific situation, rather than just following what I did, which may or may not actually work for you. I’m super excited to talk about this today and hopefully give you some insight and be helpful. 

I was diagnosed in 2014 with ulcerative colitis. At the time of this recording, it is about exactly seven years from the time I got my diagnosis to now. I want to share what happened and what I did, how I recovered and share with you that I’m still in remission seven years later, which is a pretty long time! If you’ve got an autoimmune diagnosis, you know that it takes an average of seven years to get a proper diagnosis for white women and it’s about 11 years for women of color. We know that women are often thought of as hysterical or making things up or that they are having psychosomatic symptoms by their doctors. And there’s still a lot of prejudice, obviously an unexamined bias in the medical community. So it’s a little ridiculous how long it takes to get this sorted out for most people. And a lot of what I do is to help people figure out how to advocate for themselves because you kind of have to, right? I want to talk a little bit about what it was like for me before I got my diagnosis, because there’s a lot of things that happen that precede the development of an autoimmune disease. If you have an autoimmune disease, you’ll probably relate to this. 

When I was first having what I would consider to be life altering health issues, I was a personal trainer in San Jose, California. The way it started is I would just get really, really tired, to the point where if I went on a hike, I would have to cancel all my clients the next day, because I was so wiped out. That was not normal for me. I wasn’t recovering from workouts. I was a really active person in my 20s. I was a figure competitor. I was a marathon runner for a while. So to have that kind of fatigue just hit me. It was not only debilitating and frustrating, but super demoralizing, because I couldn’t just push through it like I’d been used to. In the bodybuilding world that I literally grew up in, I had kind of developed this set of values about being able to kind of mind over matter, and power through and push through the way that my body was feeling to get to all these goals that I had. And I had done that. And then I couldn’t do that, after a certain amount of time, I couldn’t do that anymore. When I tried it got worse. I learned that I had to stop when I got not completely tired but when I got sort of tired. I had to stop and cancel everything. I had to take a day of complete rest and then I could resume somewhat normal activities. 

During that time, I had always had painful menstrual cycles, but they got incredibly debilitating. Like really, really heavy, really, really painful. I would just be curled up in a ball on the floor for three days out of my cycle. On the recommendation of several friends, I went to our kind of friendly neighborhood chiropractor/nutritionist. She did some muscle testing. She told me that in order to bring down my inflammation and make my periods easier, that what I should do was stop eating gluten, dairy, sugar, and coffee. And then she basically sent me on my way, was like, okay, good luck. Bye. So that was really sad. I remember being very sad about coffee, especially. But what was really interesting about this, this was back in 2009. 

In 2008, was the year that I was competing in figure competitions. I was on and off a competition diet for that entire year. That diet was mostly gluten free, dairy free, and nut free. Not really on purpose. I wasn’t like, oh, I’m gonna go on a gluten free, dairy free, nut free diet. I was just trying to get cut. I was just trying to get on stage in a little bikini and my clear heels. Every week I would meet with my coach and he would just keep taking food groups out of my diet as I got closer and closer to competition. It wasn’t like I was doing it from a health standpoint necessarily. I wasn’t super healthy back then. I looked great, but I had a lot of pain and fatigue. I thought it was just because I was working out so much. I remember waking up in the morning, and my hands literally didn’t work. For the first half hour I was awake, they would be stiff and painful and just not function. If I was holding something in my hands, the chances that I would just randomly drop it, were probably over 50%. I was so exhausted that by the time my evening clients came in, I would be curled up on the bench next to them. I was just not doing great. It wasn’t like I was really thriving on this competition diet or schedule but I was doing it. Oh, and my digestion was a complete mess. But the interesting thing about a competition diet is it’s sort of an elimination diet. After each show, or occasionally when my PMS cravings got the best of me, I would go to the Cheesecake Factory, as you do, and eat all the things. I would have a cheeseburger, cheesecake, french fries, everything and then I was just gonna get back on track and start training again after that. But for about two weeks, especially after every show, I would just eat whatever I wanted. 

As you might imagine, that did not go well. I got really really sick every time. I would get a sinus infection every time, which I didn’t relate to the food I was eating. I thought it was just from all the spray tans and hairspray. I actually never really related any of my symptoms to what I was eating or not eating. 

Science and Shit with Michelle Casey is brought to you by The Good Poopers Club. If you want to find out how you can use a research backed gut healing diet to reverse your symptoms and reset your relationship with food, head on over to goodpoopersclub.com to get the scoop.

Fast forward to the following year, here I am sitting in this chiropractor’s office and she tells me no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no coffee. I was like, okay, I’ll try that. I mean, I was in so much pain, and I was so exhausted all the time, I was willing to do anything, right? I don’t even remember, I had a boyfriend at the time, who happened to know how to do some gluten free baking. Thank God, because I had no idea what I was doing and I feel like this is why health coaches are such an important piece of the puzzle because doctors don’t really have time to hold your hand and help you customize things and give you lists. Sometimes they might have handouts. Of course now in my practice, I’m like, here are all of the lists of all of the foods that have gluten, like read your labels, and here’s how you know and blah blah blah blah. I didn’t have any of that. I looked online, found whatever I found, I went gluten free, dairy free, I did all the things. And I think for about three months, I followed that protocol to the best of my ability. And, it’s interesting, I hadn’t been eating a lot of baked goods because I was a bodybuilder. I didn’t eat bread. I didn’t eat cookies or any of that stuff. But since I was obviously just not competing anymore. It was funny, I didn’t even feel deprived. I was just like concerned that I might feel deprived. I went and got all of the gluten free things that Whole Foods sold. Just anything that said gluten free, I bought it and I ate it. I started eating scones and cookies and all these things and gained a bunch of weight. I was still really inflamed. My periods got a little bit better, which was my main complaint, my fatigue got a little bit better. But there was no big bright light moment. I probably was on a bunch of supplements, and that did whatever it did. But it wasn’t an amazing story of healing, yet. 

At some point, the fatigue got so bad that I had to quit being a personal trainer, which was really sad because it was a huge part of my identity. I actually moved back to Portland to live with my dad. I turned over my business to other trainers. I packed up all my stuff. I packed up my cat and I moved in with my dad for at least a summer, a few months. I was just so tired. I couldn’t even work. I think I was subbing one or two yoga classes a month that was about what I could do. I would sleep 12 hours a night and then I would go take a nap. My dad would just look at me and he’d go wow, you must be pretty tired. And I would say yes, I am very tired. After that I took a desk job for a year, which wasn’t exactly low stress, but at least I wasn’t standing in a cold gym handing dumbbells to people. And I needed health insurance. I was still gluten free that whole time. It seemed easy enough, it seemed an easy way to kind of control my carb intake, so that seemed good. I did feel somewhat better eating that way. 

Anyway, fast forward to 2013, I had gone back to personal training. I had just started my first nutrition certification. I was taking on a few health coaching clients that were not personal training clients, which was new and fun. Then the owner of the gym that I worked at asked me if I wanted to take over the café, because he didn’t have time to do it anymore. He was trying to open a second location at that time. I have a culinary arts background and since I was like 12 I always wanted my own restaurant. It seemed like a dream come true, right? Basically all of a sudden I had three jobs or three separate businesses. The stress of all of that, the pace of all of that was not good for me. I love working. Left to my own devices, I’m definitely a workaholic. I don’t even mind working hard as long as what I’m doing makes a difference but that was too much and the restaurant was not profitable. I am very good at coming up with menus and training my staff and having everything be healthy and nourishing and delicious. But, profit margins? I was not great at that. Let’s be honest. I had the random rooster café in the gym. It was all organic, it was all gluten free. And most of my clients were trainers that got a discount. I had no profit. It was one of my most spectacular life failures, to be honest with you. 

In the last couple of months of having all those three businesses and still trying to be in school, I started having really severe GI symptoms. Now, off and on, I had had terrible digestion my whole life. I mean, bodybuilders take a lot of whey protein, and I had really bad gas and bloating at one point, but the culmination of all of it, and it did come on somewhat gradually. By the time I actually got a diagnosis, I was literally having bloody diarrhea, 10 or 15 times a day. Urgent bowel movements. I would have to stop. I would be in the middle of doing deadlifts at the gym. Oh, because I was like hitting personal bests in the gym every week too obviously, right? That’s super normal. No, I have to stop doing deadlifts, go to the bathroom, have diarrhea and come back and finish my set like that is not healthy. That is not normal.

Whew, I talked to my naturopath about it. I did a bunch of internet research, which, sometimes you gotta do. You got to look it up and say these are my symptoms, what does the Dr. Google have to say? I was pretty convinced that I had ulcerative colitis. Talked to my naturopath about it, and she really wanted me to get a colonoscopy. I was 35. It was before the age that insurance normally covers it. We had to do jump through all these hoops to get insurance to cover it. But here’s the thing, I was too busy to schedule it. I was like, I can’t possibly do this, I don’t have time. I can maybe do it after I hire one more person at the café, or you know, blah, blah, blah. Excuses, excuses. So honestly, when the café failed, it was the best thing that ever happened for my health because I finally slowed down enough to go get a proper diagnosis.

You know, when you’ve just been running, and you’re holding yourself together with cortisol and caffeine, and you either get stopped because something interrupts your life or you stop. It’s for me, my adrenals were so taxed, my nervous system was so fried that when I finally stopped, I could not get going again. I did the colonoscopy. I did the prep for the colonoscopy. I came out of that experience and I was trying to start an elimination diet, I just had no energy. It was like all of the energy that I’d had before that was gone. I was bankrupt. I was in negative energy at that point. I decided I was going to try the GAPS diet, which is gut and psychology. I heard it was good for gut healing. I had read all these books about nutrient dense diets and gut healing diets. It turns out that the two first reintroductions on GAPS after the elimination phase are eggs, and nuts, and both of those were triggers for me. I’m trying to ease into eating food again and here I am causing more and more inflammation. 

I was so exhausted, I was so weak. You really have to surround yourself with the right people when you are dealing with chronic illness. Alex, my husband, he was my fiancée at the time. He didn’t realize how sick I was. And you know, he did the thing that people do when you can’t see someone’s symptoms, and you don’t relate. I mean, I looked good. I was really fit looking. Right? But it’s really easy to discount when someone says they have symptoms and you can’t see it. We’re trained to relate to women in a way, let’s be honest, that is pretty shitty and pretty gaslight-y. When I finally was honest with him about how often I was having diarrhea, a kind of a light bulb went off for him and he was like, Oh, no wonder you’re so exhausted all the time. You’re probably not absorbing anything you’re eating And I a light bulb went off for me. I was like, oh, that is different. Eating a nutrient dense diet that I read about in a book is one thing. But actually absorbing it and getting energy from it is a totally different thing. 

Anyway, long story short, I was exhausted. I had to really rely on him to cook for me. At one point, I was so depressed. It was a horrible, horrible time in my life. I had suicidal thoughts. I remember towards the end of the restaurant closing down. I just had this giant fight with Alex about money. I mean, the thing was just a money pit. He left to go do something Saturday night, and I’m sitting there. I’m supposed to be cooking at the café, because it was the only time I had to do it. I remember just sitting on the floor in front of the sink where all the cleaning chemicals were and just being like, you know, I wonder what would happen if I just drank a bunch of these. This real casual thought, I wonder what would happen when I die? Because I’m real tired. It might be nice to just not be in this body anymore. I fortunately had had enough personal development, or mindfulness training or whatever. I’ve done enough work that I knew that that voice in my head wasn’t me. It wasn’t truly me. I knew I had enough neuro chemistry knowledge in my head to know that the fact that I wasn’t absorbing nutrients meant that I wasn’t making good neurotransmitters and that my brain chemistry was probably totally fucked. And that this was a symptom of something bigger, but I didn’t act on it. I didn’t take any action. In fact, it was kind of a wake up call that thought in and of itself was like, oh, wow, okay. The very next thought was like, well, that was interesting. We should probably figure this out.

The café closed down, I finally had time to go get a colonoscopy. Alex did all the food prep for me for a really, really long time. I discovered the autoimmune paleo protocol. What was cool about that. God, I just realized this the other day, actually. So Sarah Ballantine, wrote her ginormous science heavy book called ‘The Paleo Approach’, which is where she introduced the autoimmune protocol in 2014. It was published in February, and I got diagnosed in April. So, how freakin’ lucky am I? Because that book helped me so much. It helped me not only understand what was happening in my immune system, what was happening in my gut, but also just knowing the reason why we were eliminating some of these foods was huge. It was so helpful for me.

The autoimmune protocol is basically on the Paleo diet, but an anti-inflammatory nutrient dense version of the Paleo diet. Paleo is grain free and dairy free. And then autoimmune Paleo takes out nuts, seeds, eggs, nightshades, and spices made from seeds and nightshades. The other thing I had to do was modify it even further and take out FODMAPs, which are specific types of sugars that ferment in the gut and cause a lot of gas and discomfort for some people. So we’re doing AIP, low FODMAP. We literally had charts on the refrigerator about what foods were allowed. It was wild. 

I went to a second naturopath. I had two doctors at that time. I wanted someone who was a little more experienced. My doctor at the time had just finished her residency. We did some allergy testing, some food allergy testing. I learned that I was severely allergic to eggs. This doctor was pretty well versed in these types of tests. He was like, oh, I’ve actually never seen antibodies that high on a test. I was like, oh, okay, so that’s definitely a trigger, right? Which was super sad because we had chickens and I was using egg white protein powder in my smoothies every day. Needless to say, I cut out eggs and it was actually harder than gluten for me. There’s something about when we have a food that’s inflammatory that we’re eating, whether it causes antibodies or not, we get a little dopamine hit every time we eat it. A lot of foods that people feel like they’re addicted to are actually probably causing a lot of inflammation and there are certain antibodies that we can test that will tell us if we’re gonna have withdrawal kind of reactions to gluten or dairy. But anyway, I love eggs, I miss eggs. I miss them so much. I’ve tried reintroducing a couple times over the last seven years and it didn’t go well. 

I had to figure out how to customize this way of eating. I also want to say that I had to relearn how to exercise. I was so used to pushing through anything, like, having a personal best on deadlifts, and then running to the bathroom to have bloody diarrhea in between and then I just stopped doing that shit. I had to go for walks. At this point, my bowels were not healed. My shit was not together, so to speak. 

We would go for a walk and I would shit my pants. I would just be like that SNL skit with Alec Baldwin, and I can’t remember who else was in it, but it was like an adult diaper commercial. Like, oops, I crapped my pants. That was my life. That was literally my life. We’d be out for a walk, be like two miles away from home, and my husband would have to stop, run home, and get the car and towels and come get me. I’d be lying on my side in the car trying not to spill poop out of my shorts. Are you kidding me? How humiliating! I don’t even understand why he married me at all. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. I knew where all of the bathrooms were in our neighborhood. So if we could get to the park and I could get to that bathroom, then I could generally make it the rest of the walk. But there was also a neighbor that was doing construction and they had a porta potty. That was my bathroom. I mean, it was a hot mess.

Needless to say, that’s not my life anymore. After seven years, and many, many stressful events Some of them were great. We planned our wedding, we moved to Europe for a year, we moved to Hawai’i. Some of them were not so great, our house got eaten by lava. There have been a lot of things that we’ve gone through in the last seven years, that were very stressful, but I have managed to maintain that remission status for this whole time. 

Again, your mileage may vary. These are some of the things that I did with my diet to help reverse the damage that was done from my autoimmune disease. It’s really important that if you’re going to make any changes to your healthcare protocol, that you are working with your healthcare team, and getting that support and guidance, Hopefully, at the very least, that story has given you a little bit of hope that remission could be possible, whether it’s partial or full remission. That you don’t have to live with all of your worst symptoms forever and ever. Amen. And that nutrition really does make a difference. 

You know, one of the things that I didn’t mention about getting diagnosed was that the GI doctor prescribed me a bunch of medications. When I went to the pharmacy to pick them up, it was a Friday afternoon, and I went to go pick them up, and my insurance wasn’t going to cover all of them. They were going to cover part of it. We had high deductible insurance because we’re healthy people. The rest was going to be 1000s of dollars. I called my fiancée at the time, my husband now. I said, this is not what I expected. I don’t think we can afford this, but I just want to check with you. Is there some secret money somewhere that maybe I don’t know about? He was like, yeah, no, there’s no secret money. This is what we got, we can’t afford this. I couldn’t, it was a Friday afternoon like I said, I couldn’t get ahold of the doctors. I went back home and started that ‘research’. It wasn’t like I was in the scientific literature. I did not know how to do that kind of research, yet. I was literally just Googling shit. I joined a bunch of Facebook groups for inflammatory bowel disease. Don’t necessarily recommend that. That was kind of terrifying. But it kind of made me more motivated to look for alternative and natural therapies because some of the side effects that people were talking about from the drugs that I had just been prescribed were very scary. Some of them had been on steroids for years and years. And some of them had had surgeries that I quite frankly wanted to avoid. That was kind of the impetus for me doing that hard core work to figure out what other natural ways we could use to start reducing my inflammation. 

I’m lucky that the naturopath that I went to that ran the allergy tests was open to that. He wasn’t stoked about it, he really actually would have preferred for me to take the prednisone, because I was so inflamed. But, he was open to it. He was able to actually do the research to figure out what we could do that would help. And I’m very, very lucky. I’m very, very grateful that I never, knock on wood, so far never have had to take any of those prescriptions. I’ve been able to keep this situation in remission for the last seven years just with nutritional therapy. 

Like I said, I’m going to be talking more about my process and the specifics of how I work with clients and how I help them customize their nutritional protocols in future episodes. Again, I hope that was inspiring and informative for you. That’s it for today.

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Science and Shit with Michelle Casey. If you want to stay in touch head on over to michellecaseynutrition.com/podcast to get in on all the goodness. I know you have a lot of things you could be doing with your time and I really appreciate you choosing to spend it with me. If this episode was valuable for you, please subscribe, follow and share it with your friends and family and or leave a review as an offering to the algorithm gods. Until next time, be excellent to each other!