A Health Story: Fatigue, Food Allergies, Inability to Gain Weight

Me and AlyssaToday, I’m sharing the health story of my friend Alyssa. Alyssa is one of my oldest friends… we met nearly twenty years ago at church and we were 2 of just 16 in our graduating high school class. I’m so thankful for Alyssa’s friendship over the years.  She is one of the strongest women I know; her optimism and endurance in the midst of suffering is inspiring and truly displays a joy that only God can give.  

As we have both struggled with different health issues for many years, I’ve been grateful for someone to share ideas & recipes with as we try new diets and attempts at natural healing.  She’s the friend that introduced me to essential oils, which have been so life-changing for me. And, as I’ve become a mom, she is an even more valued resource.  Here’s her story:

Hi, I’m Alyssa. I’m married to my high school sweetheart and we have four kids, ages 9, 6, 5 and 2. When I’m not spending time with my family I enjoy DIY projects at home or working part-time at Board and Brush creative studio.  I’m also passionate about natural health and wellness.

Growing up, my family was close-knit, but my mom struggled with health problems her whole life – depression, gut issues and back problems.  While we did things together as a family, we were limited by her condition  I remember her being in bed a lot. She would try to have a good meal for us on the table every night, but I still ate a lot of junk and processed food when a home cooked meal wasn’t an option.  We weren’t aware of all the short and long-term effects that food has on the body.

In middle school, I started getting made fun of for being so thin, which really affected me.  I had always been slender and unable to put on much weight, but when others started noticing, it made me really insecure.  That continued well into high school.  In high school, I also remember being pretty tired and not having a ton of energy.  My sleep consisted of: going to bed late, getting up early for school, falling asleep on my bed doing homework and going to bed late again.

Fast forward several years after having my first few kids.. just a few sleep deprived nights… my exhaustion and fatigue were much worse.  Not taking care of myself the right way put me in a bad state.  I was having gut issues and I was frequently getting sick and littlest virus would keep me down for a week or two.  

My mom had passed away in 2008 after I had had my first child, from an accidental overdose (the combination of a pain patch on her back and a heating pad).  After that, I began to think about my health in a new light; I knew I needed to figure out what was going on with myself, but I had a bad taste from conventional doctors and medicine after everything that happened with my mom.  

I discovered I had a gluten intolerance via trial and error after a doctor misdiagnosed me with acid re-flux.  I saw a string of natural doctors trying to figure out what was now lack of energy, anxiety, thinning hair, continued inability to gain weight along with some gut issues.  I saw at least 5 different doctors who all saw I had a problem going on with the symptoms and various lab results, but were unable to figure out what it all meant or what the cause was. I started eating healthier, in addition to being gluten-free, and begun researching more about natural remedies.  

When anything came up with our family, from colds and ear infections to strep throat, I tried to find a natural remedy for it. When my oldest was five, she had 5 rounds of strep throat and antibiotics to go with them, but was still sick. I was so frustrated and felt helpless; I came across a remedy of cayenne + honey + garlic and made her try it.  To my surprise, it worked! I had been able to treat her strep naturally without the use of antibiotics and she’s never had strep again. It’s like her body needed just a little natural help to fight it off on it’s own.

I continued seeking out natural remedies for ailments and dabbled in essential oils, not seeing much impact from the ones I had bought from the grocery store.  I didn’t think much of it until I was introduced to Young Living essential oils at a class. I was educated on the difference between store-grade oils vs pure, therapeutic grade oils and how they could help enhance a natural lifestyle. My husband thought I was nuts for being so excited about oils, but he’s now completely on-board and embraced my “crunchy” tendencies of tackling pretty much anything naturally.

As for my health problems, I’m still continuing to sift through the details of understanding what’s going on with my body. I found that following an AIP diet helps with a lot of my gut issues.  When I eat something I shouldn’t, I can recognize it quickly. My blood work still shows off levels and indicates potential thyroid and hormone issues, but the doctor I was seeing was somewhat perplexed by it. I’m currently waiting to see a new functional medicine doctor that a friend with Hashimoto’s recommended. She’s seen drastic improvement with her health over the last 6 months, so I am hopeful for similar results. In the meantime, I take each day as it comes. I am super aware of what I eat, what I use on my body and the products I use in my home. The journey to health and wellness seems to be an ongoing one. It can be so discouraging at times but I know that God has me in this journey for a reason and I’m trusting in His plan.

Like Alyssa, I know that so many of us are still in the thick of it- trying to figure out what’s causing issues and doing all we can to address the symptoms in the meantime.  I hope to someday share the answers Alyssa has discovered and the healing that she’s found.  I’m always comforted to know I’m not the only one still looking for answers, even though it is such a frustrating & discouraging place to be.

If you want to share your story, I would love to feature it on my blog to encourage others- please reach out to me at healthyhopefulblog(at)gmail.com. 

What’s Your Dog Eating?

Raw Dog FoodWe all love our pups… they’re not only our best friends, they’re part of our families. We want them to live long, healthy lives as our companions; but, are we giving them the best chance at doing so?

Our family dog, a Wheaton terrier, had several health problems throughout her life.  It was heartbreaking and frustrating that we followed all the vet’s advice for raising a healthy dog and still watched her suffer. Ultimately, her life was cut short because of it all. When I got my schnoodle, Belle, I did a lot of research on everything I could do to raise her in better health.  The information I found lead me to make some dramatic changes, including what I feed her.  I focus so much on putting nutritious foods into my own body, why wouldn’t I do the same for her?

It’s a well-known fact that dogs share a very similar DNA with their canine relatives (like wolves), so, of course, we should feed them similar diets, right?  We see the pictures of meats and vegetables on the bags of dog food, but have you ever actually taken a look at the ingredient list?  You might be surprised by it.  Commercial dog foods today contain:

  • Questionable Meat – The type of meat that goes into dog food is typically the cheapest, poorest quality. And there’s usually not much of it to meet the high-protein needs of our canine friends. Many brands use “meal,” which is a highly processed form of meat.
  • Grains & Carbs – Many kibbles use corn or wheat as cheap fillers. Dogs cannot digest those foods well, leading to the big smelly poops you get in your yard, but also to a host of other problems… allergies (this is a BIG one!), yeast infections, poor dental health, diabetes, obesity and even cancer.
  • Preservatives – Filled with salt and other chemical preservatives to improve shelf-life, it leaves your dog thirsty and laden with behavioral and health problems caused by these toxins. Many of these additives aren’t deemed safe for humans.
  • Processed Ingredients – It’s funny how we are told to avoid processed foods for optimal health, yet we feed our dogs heavily processed food every single day, for their entire lives. No wonder they are begging for our kitchen table leftovers.

This all comes as probably a shock to you, as it was to me. Don’t these companies spend time and money on research to find what the best nutrition is for our pets? Their commercials certainly advertise that they do.  But check out the ingredients for yourself and you’ll find that even the “best” dry dog food raises some questions.

Kibble is nothing like the diets of dogs’ relatives and goes against everything considered “healthy” by humans.  So what’s the alternative? A raw food diet… exactly what a canine needs for proper nutrition.  What does that consist of?  Raw meaty bones, muscle meat and fish, organs, vegetables, eggs, and vitamins. Still not so sure? Here are a few of the questions and fears I had originally and the answers I’ve discovered:

  • How do I make sure my dog is getting the right amount of food and balanced nutrition?  The book Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog explains everything in detail and very simply. It explains proportions for each type of ingredient, gives sample “meal plans” with different meats and has a formula to determine the amount to feed based on your dog’s size and stage of life.
  • What will this do to my dog’s teeth?  Actually, it will help a lot!  Kibble is terrible for keeping your dog’s teeth and gums healthy… it creates lots of plaque leading to decay and bad breath. One of the most noticeable things about switching food for my dog Belle is that her teeth are getting whiter and her breath is much better.
  • Aren’t bones bad for dogs? Cooked bones are bad because they can splinter and be very harmful when swallowed.  Raw bones don’t splinter like this and dogs really enjoy chewing on them (which helps clean teeth even more!). If you are still really worried about it, the book above has some suggestions for softer bones to use or how to grind them up smaller.  Even small dogs like bones – my 10lb dog loves gnawing on chicken wings!
  • This sounds messy… is it?  Yes, unfortunately, it is messier than kibble. I now have to clean Belle’s face after meals, but she enjoys it SO much, it’s totally worth it!
  • How much time does all this take?  It depends. I’ve talked to people who say they prep their dog food when they do their own meal prep on Sundays, and it’s only an additional half hour a week or so.  But, I currently don’t do the food preparation myself right now. I’ve found an option that’s dehydrated raw food where I can just add hot water to rehydrate. It’s super quick and easy to make a bowl for her. Then I throw in a couple bones each week for her to chew on and an organ every once in awhile when I’m cooking a whole chicken.
  • Is it more expensive?  It depends on what you’re buying now, but it wasn’t for me.  A quick Amazon search shows that a 35lb bag of Purina Pro dog food cost $40.  When I was buying dry dog food, I purchased a GMO & preservative-free, high protein brand called Nulo for $55 for a 24lb bag. I now purchase I and Love and You Raw Dehydrated Dog Food; a 5.5lb bag makes 36 lbs of prepared food – on Amazon it’s $67, at Whole Foods it’s $60 and on Thrive Market it’s only $50. I’ve also purchased a similar option that uses free-range meat – The Honest Kitchen Free-Range Chicken Raw Dog Food – it’s a little pricier, but I buy if it’s on sale. If you go with preparing your own food, there’s many ways to save by buying meat & bones in bulk or getting unique cuts of meat no one else wants (dogs don’t care!) for a discount. I’ve asked the butcher for the bones they remove for their boneless chicken breasts & thighs and got them super cheap.
  • My dog is picky; will she like it? ABSOLUTELY!  Honestly, I was convinced by my research that this was certainly the healthier choice, but what sold me was how much she LOVES it. With her old dry dog food, I would put a bowl out in the morning and she would only pick at it a little throughout the day. And she’s always been picky with treats and sometimes even table scraps. Now, when I make her food, she scarfs it down. If we take too long to get out of bed in the morning, she will whimper and jump to remind us because she’s so excited to eat. Obviously, this food is the best for her. I’ll never make her go back to crumbly kibble.

When we started feeding Belle raw dog food and bones, I immediately noticed several improvements to her health.  To sum all this up, here are a few of the health benefits you can expect by switching your dog to a raw food diet:

  • Cleaner Teeth, Better Breath – gnawing on bones and meat helps remove plaque
  • Shinier, Smoother Hair – all the collagen in the bones and extra vitamins help
  • Less Allergies – I barely notice Belle chewing her feet anymore. Grains and toxic preservatives in dry dog food are the main cause for allergic reactions and inflammation.
  • Healthy Joints – I’m hopeful that Belle won’t have to struggle with painful arthritis in her old age like our Wheaton did. The bones & marrow contain glucosamine which is necessary for creating collagen and helps build and repair bones, joints, tendons and ligaments.
  • Easier Digestion – This is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen. Real talk… Belle’s poop is not nearly as hard as it used to be, which makes it come out much easier for her. I don’t have to express her anal glands anymore or risk them getting infected from becoming impacted. Her poo essentially dissolves in the yard in just a couple of days, which I think says a lot about what kind of ingredients she was eating before. It’s also less smelly.
  • Hydration – Raw dog food naturally contains lots of water unlike dry kibble.  I’ve noticed that Belle rarely goes for her water bowl anymore (only after a long walk or after barking at the neighbor dog on a hot day).
  • More Energy – you’ve removed ingredients that cause lethargy and replaced by those that give proper protein and nutrition for energy
  • Lean Muscle –  Belle didn’t struggle with being overweight like many dogs, but she’s definitely more muscular now.  If you’re dog does need to lose some pounds, this raw diet would be great to try.

Sorry for the super long post, but I hope this information helps you make a more informed decision about your dog’s nutrition. I’m so glad we’ve made this change for our sweet pup… the transition has been so easy and was definitely worth it!

What do you think? Is this something you’d be willing to try for your dog?