If you own my book, Namaslay, you know that I unfortunately was put on a longterm course of antibiotics for Lyme disease and subsequently used the GAPS diet to heal my gut. (You can read more about my experience with that here.) The GAPS diet can be intimidating, and to be honest, not everyone needs that level of healing. But what I discovered over the last few years in dealing with this and learning more about gut health, is that all of us - yes, all! - could benefit from more gut healing foods and protocols. There is such a huge connection between gut health and skin issues, gut health and mood disorders, gut health and hormones, etc., that Carley from Fairy Gutmother and I decided to collaborate and create a whole long-weekend intensive yoga and gut healing retreat this spring called Healthily Ever After.
Anyway, back to my experience. After I did the GAPS diet, all the normal healing took place - namely, my digestion improved one hundred percent... but I also noticed five other surprising ways my body changed once my gut was healed and I thought I'd share them today.
- Clearer Skin
As it turns out, our skin is our biggest organ, and can tell you a lot about your body's state of health. Prior to taking antibiotics for Lyme disease, I would get the random pimple here and there, usually corresponding with my period. After a year or so on antibiotics for Lyme disease? My skin was a wreck. I'm not talking about a pimple or two or even three. I am talking about painful, cystic acne on my forehead, and recurring clusters of breakouts on either side of my mouth. Using Chinese face mapping (google it), I knew that forehead breakouts were linked to digestive issues (ding ding ding, I already knew I had that going on), and breakouts around the mouth and jawline were linked to imbalanced hormones.
"Well how do I balance my hormones?" I remember lamenting to a friend.
"Easy," she said. "Just go get some blood work done and talk with a doctor."
The problem was that I was constantly traveling. Due to my ex's job, we were moving two, sometimes three times a year internationally, and I didn't have a primary care physician. I figured I'd deal with the skin issues later and decided to focus on the most important thing, my gut.
Well, would you believe that the breakouts diminished once my gut was healed? Further, the cystic acne has completely gone away, and my skin is generally calm. I'm now back to my "once in a while" pimple situation, which usually corresponds to the cycle of my period. Joy.
2. Balanced Hormones
Prior to getting sick with Lyme disease, my period was like clockwork, arriving every four weeks, pretty much to the hour. After my course of antibiotics was up, everything was thrown off. My period would come every three weeks and five days, then three weeks and two days, then three weeks. Once it even came in two weeks. My breast size increased dramatically. They were swollen, tender, and uncomfortable. Then they decreased in size with no rhyme or reason. I retained water for a week and was bloated and puffy, and then I'd be my normal size for a day or two before ballooning back up. I truly felt so out of sorts, and so uncomfortable. I knew from those signs along with the areas in which my skin was breaking out (see above) that my hormones were off but I felt like I couldn't deal with that until I healed my gut.
Once I healed my gut, my hormones started evening out. My periods became more predictable, although they were still early by my body's schedule (every 3.5 weeks pretty much to the day). My breast size normalized and I was no longer fluctuating in terms of bloating or water retention. However, the period thing continued to bother me. I still felt like something was a bit off.
I'd read in an article that tracking macros is a way to balance your hormones, so I started doing that. Once I took a closer look at what I was eating, I realized I was eating much more fat than the recommended daily intake for my body, and not enough protein or carbs. After four months of tracking my macros and eating a more balanced diet, my hormones completely normalized. My periods now come exactly every four weeks just like before, and everything else is back to normal.
3. Hair, Skin and Nails
So I've told you about my skin issues above, but my hair and nails were also issues for me. My hair was weak. It would break easily, and fall out almost in clumps in the shower. I know a little fall out in the shower is normal, but I'm talking a hundred strands, if not more. My nails were brittle, fragile, and barely seemed to grow.
After healing my gut, my hair went back to "normal fall out" in the shower. I wash my hair now every four to five days or so, and I will maybe have ten strands, tops, fall out. The stylist at my salon even commented how healthy my hair looks and feels, and she said it is growing at a faster rate than before.
My nails became harder, stronger, and don't break or chip as easily as before. It's pretty incredible!
4. Seasonal Depression
Depression runs in my family so I have always been very aware of my emotional health. Since I was about fifteen, I suffered from seasonal depression in the winter. February and March were the worst months for me, and some days I couldn't even get out of bed I was so depressed. Only someone who has been there or who has lived with someone who suffers from depression will understand this, but it was like the light within me had gone off. I was unmotivated to do anything. Even bathing felt like a chore. Eating felt like a chore. Little day to day errands felt like giant uphill battles. When March over, it would pass, and feel like a distant memory until it started all over again the following winter.
When I began the GAPS diet, it was October first. As the leaves changed and the first snow fell, I felt that impending sense of dread that the seasonal depression was on its way, but to my surprised, it never arrived. In fact, to this day - about five years since - I have not had seasonal depression return. Upon further research, I discovered this actually isn't so surprising. The gut and brain connection is stronger than I'd realized, and healing the gut is a good way to improve mild depression.
In college, I lost three family members one right after another in a series of unrelated, and unexpected events. Their deaths happened within months of each other and I was left with what was diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I felt like my whole world had come crashing down, and that at any given moment everything in my life could completely crumble and fall apart. I developed debilitating anxiety, which I wrote about in my book. Here's an excerpt:
The deaths in my family triggered anxiety and depression within me that were so profound, I felt paralyzed. It started with anxiety, which would swoop down out of nowhere like an eagle catching its prey. My body would sweat uncontrollably, a pit would form in my stomach, and waves of adrenaline would wash over me again and again, making me feel like I was drowning. My throat would begin to tighten, a no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't breathe normally. I was always gasping for air, struggling to stay afloat. I feltl ike nothing was within my control.
Back on campus, I felt like I was going crazy. Loud noises and bright lights frightened me, and I had to stop eating at the larger dining halls. I felt debilitating anxiety from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep. I lost a worrisome amount of weight and suffered from multiple panic attacks on a daily basis.
The anxiety subsided for a bit after college, but after I got off antibiotics, the anxiety was back again and worse than every. Social settings were impossible for me. I felt trapped and unable to breathe. But after I healed my gut? It was like everything normalized. Sure, I still get butterflies before a big event, or I feel nervous if I have to give a talk or if I'm meeting someone for the first time... but those feelings are normal. What's not normal is declining hang outs with friends because anxiety is running your life. What's not normal is having someone else grocery shop for you because you can't handle the grocery store.
When I look back on all of this, I realize how truly grateful I am for the path I have been on. While it'd be easy to say, "Man, I really wish I didn't have to go through Lyme disease," I also feel like that experience was vital to my self-growth. I can confidently say now that I am a much healthier person overall than I was before I got Lyme disease. The gut health issues, I realize, started long before I had Lyme disease, and it was really the disease that was the catalyst for learning, making changes, and discovering the best version of myself. So whatever it is you're going through - and we're all dealing with something - see if you can shift your perspective to notice the good that will come of it, and the lessons you can take with you, once you're finished with that chapter in your life.
And if you'd like to join us for our Yoga and Gut Healing retreat, we have limited space left.