It all started with a 'leaky gut'
In 2012, I was diagnosed with a condition called 'leaky gut'. Scientifically speaking, this is when small, partially-digested food compounds enter the blood stream through microscopic gaps in the small intestine that have formed over time due to intolerance to certain food (such as dairy, gluten etc.). When the body starts fighting these compounds, this brings about some symptoms – including bloating, lower abdominal pain, loose stool and weight gain (especially around the mid section) – to name a few! If left untreated, a leaky gut could lead to inflammation in the body (click here for more info).
How did I get here?
But let's take a step back! Let me tell you what my diet was like up to that point, which I believe contributed to the leaky gut.
Despite my Italian heritage, my mom being a great cook and my grandparents having run a successful grocery store for over 50 years, I was actually a very bad cook! My home-cooked meals consisted of pasta (I knew how to boil water) and a side salad. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal and milk. No cooking skills required so far! I also ate out A LOT! And all that time, I thought my eating habits were fine, or at least better than average (insert emoticon with rolling eyes here).
For nearly two decades, this was my typical diet – 'cooking' for myself and lots of eating out. Fast forward to 2008, when I started noticing persistent bloating and abdominal discomfort. No matter what I ate, the discomfort was always there. After enduring this for a few years (in retrospect, way too long), I finally decided to take action.
The first step is to seek help
I went to see a nutritionist, who reviewed my food diary and saw that I was eating A LOT of processed carbs and not enough fats and proteins. He suggested that I change my breakfast from milk and cereal to eggs and healthy fats like avocados instead. I wasn't particularly receptive at first – especially at the idea of waking up earlier to prepare the first meal of the day (that's 10 minutes less sleep in the morning!).
But I decided to give it a try. At first, I started hard-boiling eggs as the quick and easy option (old habits die hard!). But after a few weeks, tired of eating cold hard-boiled eggs straight from the fridge, I moved on to scrambled eggs. Despite the fact that it took more time to prepare, it was well worth it.
The second step is to actively monitor
After a couple of months, the bloating subsided slightly, but it hadn't disappeared completely. I felt like more needed to be done. So my nutritionist decided to run some blood, urine and stool tests. As it turned out, these tests revealed that I had 'leaky gut' and this was partly due to intolerance to gluten!
Under his advice (and against my Italian nature), I had to cut out pasta, bread or any kind of grains containing gluten. Panic-stricken, I thought 'what am I going to eat now?!' We Italians can't survive without pasta!
Finding the Italian cook in me: Mamma comes to rescue
I needed to replace my bread and pasta with nutrient dense food like proteins, vegetables and healthy fats. There were two problems: I had neither the kitchen utensils nor the cooking skills to prepare my new meals!
First, I went out and splurged on kitchen utensils to expand my collection (which was one sauce pan and a salad bowl up to this point – remember my pasta and salad menu?). That was the easy part.
Cooking skills are less easy to 'acquire'. So I began regular Skype sessions with my 'Mamma' so she could teach me a few simple – but nutritious – gluten-free dishes that I loved as a child. Over video chat, she coached me into cooking a handful of easy meals. Although I can't say that all dishes were successful at first, I learned the basics. Over time, these dishes turned out to be quite tasty! Feeling a little bit more empowered, I was motivated to keep going and try more sophisticated dishes!
My Paleo discovery … and results!
A little while later, I was introduced to the Paleo diet by a good friend of mine who learnt about my newfound interest in cooking. She gave me a Paleo cook book as a Christmas present (this is the book: Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo). With an open mind, I picked up the Paleo basics, started experimenting with recipes and eventually cooked more elaborate meals.
After 2 months of eating gluten-free, nutrient-dense food, I lost 3 kilos of belly fat while maintaining my lean mass. Most importantly, the bloating was finally GONE! Hallelujah!!
Experiencing for myself the results of good nutrition, I started delving a bit deeper into it as a part-time hobby. I started following nutrition experts and reading their books and blogs.
Let's get serious: Studying nutrition
Meanwhile, my health kept improving! Small nagging injuries (such as tendonitis and mild joint aches) disappeared and I had more energy - really important when you're a fitness professional teaching 5 classes a day! This made a big different in my work productivity and people around me started noticing it too. I was living proof of how the food we eat impacts our bodies and health! I wanted to give this gift to others, which was the moment I decided to formally study nutrition and provide nutrition coaching to my clients.
Nutrition-coaching: Sharing my knowledge – and story – with clients
My personal journey to better eating was a long one fraught with challenges (both practical and psychological), but it's one that I don't regret at the very least! It was tough, but I overcame those obstacles with the support of professionals, friends … and my Mamma. Ultimately – though by no means overnight – I saw results. If only I started sooner!
Still, I take away from this personal journey a deep sympathy with many of my clients who might find it difficult to take the initial steps towards healthy eating. I also understand how easy it is to resist changes or make excuses (especially when the going gets tough).
My experience has given me the tools I need to inspire my clients to achieve their goals once they decide that - they too - want to embark on their own personal journey to healthy eating!