On Becoming a Functional Nutritionist: Caroline’s Journey
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
At the Functional Nutrition Alliance, each of the stellar functional nutritionists that have been on my team has been trained in the philosophies of nutrition care and detective work that I believe are critical to the healing processes. They also each come with their own insights, expertise, and, of course, personal stories of health, healing and transformation. In this way, they’re just like you – relatable, experienced and thoughtful about the trials and triumphs of staying and being well.
Today I’d like to introduce you to Caroline, a former lead Functional Nutritionist on my team and who was, in myriad ways, my ‘right hand’ for many years. Similar to me, Caroline had to battle her husband’s cancer and then discover her own health challenges in the wake of his remission.
While you’ll find reflections of my story, you may also see a resemblance to your own. I think you’ll enjoy reading her words and be as inspired by her as I’ve been. (Talk about transcendence!)
Caroline’s story: Connecting the dots to thyroid health
Hashi Companion reader to Functional Nutritionist!
I’m Caroline, one of the functional nutritionists on Andrea Nakayama’s team at the Functional Nutrition Alliance. Like Andrea (and maybe like you), I also have Hashimoto’s. As is often the case, my autoimmunity was triggered by a major stress event in my life.
Over a decade ago, my husband, Paul, was diagnosed with Stage II colon cancer. At the time, he was 38 years old and incredibly healthy (at least on the outside). To say cancer was a shock, is a huge understatement, and it took a toll on us both emotionally and, as I would learn, also physiologically.
Although he had blood in his stool (that’s what led to the colonoscopy), it never crossed my mind that he might have cancer. I thought the surgeon would find a hemorrhoid or two and we’d be on our way. The day turned out much differently. The doctor found a tumor. Our life changed in an instant.
The next few months were a roller-coaster of emotion and stress with an intense surgery, six nights in the hospital, radiation, and deep sorrow. Within the month, we also lost 2 beloved pets and I broke my right hand. When it rains, it pours as they say, and during that summer, it felt like a very gray cloud was permanently parked over our house.
What does this have to do with my Hashimoto’s? Six months after Paul’s diagnosis, I had my annual blood work drawn and my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) came back quite high. Further testing revealed thyroid antibodies that were off the charts.
As Andrea likes to say. . . Hello Hashimoto’s.
I didn’t think I was having symptoms per say and I didn’t fit the “classic” hypothyroid case by any means, which made it all the more confusing. In retrospect, I was indeed having symptoms but I wasn’t connecting the dots or being honest with myself about how I was truly feeling.
Maybe you can relate. Are there times when you sweep some of your niggling symptoms – fatigue, swollen hands and what seem like minor digestive woes under the rug?
Autoimmunity is in my genes. In fact, every person in my mom’s family has an autoimmune condition including my mom who has rheumatoid arthritis. My “gun” was loaded, so to speak, and the experience and stresses of having my young husband diagnosed with cancer pulled the trigger for the expression of my Hashimoto’s.
Before I get too far, I want you to know that Paul, my husband, is doing great. Although we’re always working to support his digestion (since he had part of his colon removed and irradiated), he’s cancer-free and thriving. (Sometimes I forget to mention that when I tell my story and leave people wondering about him!)
For the first few years of my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I didn’t think much of it. My doctor prescribed Synthorid and I took it. I didn’t research it. I didn’t dig deeper. I didn’t question why I’d developed it. I just accepted it and moved on. My energy was 100% focused on healing Paul and let’s face it – compared to cancer, Hashimoto’s seemed minor.
Things changed when I started studying the digestive system with Andrea. I started to realize (or perhaps more accurately, be honest about the fact) that I had a weird kaleidoscope of symptoms. I had chronically loose bowels for as long as I could remember. I’m embarrassed to admit it now but it had been like this for so long that I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. Mind you, I had mentioned it to a few doctors but they always just brushed it off as “normal” (hello, sooooo not normal or healthy!).
My eyes were always red. Let me give you a picture of what I mean: Every morning, I looked like I had just smoked pot (not a positive thing for a nutritionist!). I used Visine daily to clear my eyes (not so good for my eyes). I tried new contacts, new solution, switched to glasses, kicked our cats out of our room and more. Nothing worked. My eyes stayed red and I accepted it.
I also got a funky (and very itchy) rash on my right foot that came and went. I chalked it up to athlete’s foot from time spent in the locker room after swimming. Now I realize it was eczema and a manifestation of what was going on inside my gut! My body was talking to me but I wasn’t listening.
I hadn’t learned how to listen. I had decent energy most of the time. Or at least I pretended I did. In reflection though, I would have days or weeks of deep fatigue. I was often slow to get out of bed in the morning or my eyes would be incredibly tired, like I couldn’t keep them open for a second longer. I was eating a really healthy diet and I think that helped keep my energy levels up but the undercurrent of fatigue was there. Then, I finally had a framework to look at me (and my symptoms) in a bigger context. Instead of seeing them all as isolated expressions that needed to be addressed individually, it became clear that they were all manifestations of deeper imbalance that needed to be managed.
I also realized that I needed to dig deeper and get to the roots!
Mapping my symptoms gave me clarity. It wasn’t a pity party for how much was “off” in my body. Instead, it was empowering. It was enlightening to make connections that I had never thought about and finally be honest about my signs and symptoms.
Finally, it all started to make sense and my roadmap to healing began to emerge. And I’ll be blunt here. No doctor was going to help me do this. I have a great doctor (he’s thyroid-savvy enough to check more than just TSH for all of his patients), but he didn’t have time to help me connect the dots that are particular to my unique history and the expression of my signs and symptoms.
I had to do it for myself. So do you.
Mapping my symptoms also woke me up to the fact that Hashimoto’s is indeed serious. It’s not just a matter of popping a pill each morning. Autoimmunity doesn’t get the press (or strike the fear) that cancer does but it can be just as debilitating, if not more.
With Andrea’s guidance, the real questions that I needed to be asking emerged.
– Why was my body attacking my thyroid?
– What was causing my immune system to spin out of control?
– What would happen if I didn’t stop the attack?
–What could I do to bring my immune system into balance and heal my thyroid?
I won’t lie or paint a false picture. My healing journey has been a slow process with ebbs and flows. At first it was frustrating as I tried to uncover what foods caused digestive distress for me, but as I allowed the process to unfold, the pieces started to fall into place.
My journey continues and I know it always will but having Hashimoto’s teaches me every day to be mindful and listen deeply to my body’s signals. It’s a journey I’m grateful for because it informs my life and spirit in ways I never imagined.
The Functional Nutritionist works in therapeutic partnership
Don’t you just love how Caroline took her health into her own hands?
It’s funny (or I find it funny anyway. . . ) that a common question we get is “where do I find a doctor who will address my care from all these different angles?”. The reason I find it to be funny is because I don’t know that one exists! – even among the hundreds of physicians that I know personally and hold in such high regard.
There are limitations to what our medical system and medical professionals can provide. In fact, one of the number one tenants of Functional Medicine is that the provider and patient work in therapeutic partnership with each other. But as you and I both know, most partnerships don’t thrive when one person has all the power or is expected to have all the answers.
Whether it be a personal relationship or a professional one, a partnership is an alliance. It’s cooperative. In the case of the strongest and most effective partnerships, both “stake holders” are equally responsible for the desired outcome.
The empowered healing journey
This is where YOU come in.
My mission is to help you to become a fully vested partner for those seeking greater empowerment in their personal health and healing journeys. Caroline’s journey from patient to practitioner exemplifies the evolution available to you, offering your clients the same level of care, attention, and partnership that I was privileged to provide her. Ultimately, establishing your role as a partner and educator on your client’s care team will pave the way for the success of your practice, regardless of whether it’s newly established or has a longstanding presence.
EXPERIENCE A FREE TRAINING SERIES WITH ANDREA NAKAYAMA TO HELP YOU
Begin practicing functionally today!
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