Editor’s Note: I met Gina Rieg at the Fourfold Path to Healing Conference in Baltimore in February 2012. Her story of healing from Ulcerative Colitis using the GAPS Diet was so compelling to me that I asked her if she would be willing to write down her detailed story so that others in a similar situation might be inspired to heal through a change of diet instead of using drugs or surgery. Read her original post on how to heal naturally from Ulcerative Colitis.
Here we are 18 months later and Gina has graciously penned an update on her progress. I’m sure those of you suffering from Ulcerative Colitis, IBS, Crohn’s Disease or other inflammatory bowel condition that could benefit from the GAPS Diet will find encouragement in her story as she continues on her journey to full healing.
April 14, 2013
Here I sit, enjoying a glass of red wine on April 14th, 2013. Today marks TWO years exactly since my last infusion of Remicade, a powerful intravenous drug which helped me to manage the debilitating symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis before I went on the GAPS Diet to heal naturally.
When I wrote my first article on this blog in March 2012, I had been on my gut-healing journey with the GAPS Diet healing protocol for one full year, and I had seen great signs of healing. From March 2012 to this April 2013, even more aspects of my health showed improvement – I felt certain that all was well on my journey to full recovery.
3 months later …
That is where my two year updated story and reflection stalled for a bit. I remember that evening on April 14th, 2013 so well. My husband and I enjoyed a celebratory drink — we had some dry red wine. Then, I’m honestly not sure what happened — don’t get me wrong; it’s not because of the wine though!
I think what happened was quite simple – life got busy.
I was working hard with my work as a health coach, guiding my clients towards better health and away from the road of “dis-ease”. So I simply didn’t keep writing about my healing journey.
I see that as a positive sign, though, because I find that most times (as I experienced this through my personal journey) that we are more likely to stop and write/note what’s not going well rather than what IS going well. As I coach my clients to reflect on the good and bad things along the way on their healing journey, I knew I needed to pick up on my two year story and share what has transpired since March 2012. So, here my story continues…
When I left off writing on April 14th, 2013, I was chronicling in my diary that there were several aspects of my life and health that had continued to demonstrate drastic healing. Let me elaborate …
Knee Pain Resolves with No Drugs or Surgery
I’ll start with my darn left knee pain that is, simply, no more. My left knee, which used to chronically spike and throb with severe pain has drastically decreased. My left knee underwent not one, not two, but THREE knee surgeries from 2004 to 2008, way before I started my gut-healing journey. Due to a volleyball injury, my first surgery was an ACL reconstruction plus meniscus repair. I have learned more recently, that many times an ACL reconstruction is not absolutely a necessary surgery.
The last two surgeries were not due to re-tearing anything; they were scopes to clean-up tissue that was THOUGHT to be causing the chronic knee pain. I actually do suspect that if my food lifestyle was like it is now (so nourishing and healing), perhaps I wouldn’t have needed the last two surgeries? Of course, it is my speculation, but I think that is due to how I’ve seen my knee strength progress since addressing my gut health. Even after all those surgeries, my knee pain was still pretty bad. The summer of 2010 after all three surgeries was especially awful. This was before I started GAPS and even before I took my very first step to gut healing by elimination of gluten from my diet. There were times in which it was excruciatingly painful to even walk; every step involved a sharp pain in my left knee.
Upon investigation from a highly skilled physical therapist, there wasn’t much functionally wrong, given when and where the pain was occurring. I also remember it being extremely difficult to describe the pain. I did seek out acupuncture, and I found that it helped the pain temporarily. Even with acupuncture, the pain continued to spike – until I addressed my gut.
I’m so happy to report that the chronic knee pain is no longer present!
The three surgeries were quite a bit of trauma, and so my left knee gets “grumpy” occasionally if perhaps I did too much the previous week such as too much running and volleyball, but it is NOTHING like it was three years ago, before my gut-healing journey.
I should mention that volleyball and running are both sports that I once LOVED and never thought I could ever return to, given my previous knee pain. I am happy to report that this past spring, I resumed light running and playing volleyball. The relief of the chronic knee pain was definitely a plus and an improvement from my gut-healing that I didn’t necessarily expect. There was never much showing of lasting improvement, until now. I addressed my gut health and now my chronic knee pain is gone. Coincidence? I think not!
Hormones Begin to Self Regulate
Secondly, my hormonal imbalances have clearly begun to self regulate to normal. The rhythm of my menstrual cycle has resumed! I don’t mind sharing this with everyone as I want others to know the potential of true healing. I also want to express how the body rarely shows distress a single way. While various symptoms could be viewed as independent occurrences, I definitely don’t see my secondary amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle following years of a regular cycle) as a separate issue from the symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis.
My body was completely thrown out of whack in July 2006 when I had the biggest UC flare of my life, landing me in the hospital with uncontrolled bleeding and cramping.
That is the point when I started Remicade and from that point on, my period ceased from occurring naturally. It’s impossible to say if it was a direct result from Remicade, but it could have been. More broadly, my body was in such a shocked and inflamed state that my body shut down my menstrual cycle. It was if my body was telling me, “There is no way that you could/should support another life right now. Get yourself healthy first.”
Either way, my hormones were completely altered. After many months of amenorrhea, it was suggested from my former primary care doctor to take birth control to try to force a period. I had never taken birth control prior to this time. So, for about 6 years, I was on and off birth control attempting to regulate my period (even though the period that happens when you are on birth control isn’t really a true period).
Throughout those 6 years, I attempted a few times to stop birth control in order to see if my period would come back naturally.
As I look back, I am not surprised as my gut and entire body was in such a battle from the Remicade. Finally, once I planned to wean off Remicade and heal my gut, I stopped taking birth control in December 2010, with no plans of returning back to it in order “to regulate”. Still no period.
Three months later, in March 2011, I started GAPS. Still no period.
I waited and waited. I worked on healing my gut. Along some points, I started to really get impatient, worried that I would never regain my period and that my husband and I would never have the opportunity to have a child of our own.
I sought out some alternative natural treatments, such as salivary hormone testing, leading to the use of a topical progesterone cream for about 4 months. Nothing seemed to make much of a difference.
So, I kept waiting and I kept working on my gut health recovery. On Thanksgiving 2012, I was ready to add in sweet potatoes (not a food allowable on GAPS due to the multiple complex sugars). Then, in December 2012, TWO years after I stopped taking birth control, I gained my menstrual cycle back naturally!
Oh that was a great day! And each period is great. As a woman, I never thought that I would ever have such wonderful thoughts during a period, but every month when I menstruate, I feel so blessed to have progressed so much in healing! Now, my husband and I can actually think about having a child. Life is good!
Ulcerative Colitis Still in Remission
Last but definitely not least, my digestion is pretty darn good! I don’t experience any of the symptoms that my body used to show from Ulcerative Colitis. That means – no bloody diarrhea, no cramping, no more fear of not being near a bathroom. During my journey, there were definitely times of stalled progress, plateaus, bumps, deep ditches even!
Probably one of the most worrisome changes (which usually happens in gut-healing) was when I dropped almost 20 pounds, when I didn’t “need” to lose any weight at all. Now, I am back to a healthy weight, and probably what my body composition was always meant to be.
Through it all, with the GAPS protocol and some additional support along the way, I’ve returned to regular bowel movements in the gradual way the body is meant to recover. Food-wise, I’m working my way off GAPS. This means that I have begun incorporating many non-GAPS foods into my food lifestyle. I started with fermented buckwheat (see picture), fermented quinoa, and then fermented millet. The funny thing is that my body doesn’t really want much of these foods. I will never go back to the non-nourishing way that I used to eat, even though I thought I was eating right by following what “they” (the mainstream) say is the healthy way to eat.
In summary, the huge improvements in my second year of my gut-healing journey were freedom from chronic knee pain, the return of my menstrual cycle and great digestion!
I’d like to end with something very essential that I have learned throughout my journey. Something that is very difficult to accept. There is no such thing as perfect health. It simply doesn’t exist. The body is in a constant state of communicating to us, with aches with pains with signs. I used to naively think that once I healed my gut, my body and my health would just be peachy-keen. That is so far from the truth. I will say it’s a difficult truth to accept but it’s the TRUTH.
While the chronic disease that my body expressed for 10 + years, showing itself in digestive disease, my reproduction system shutting down, and perhaps even in chronic knee pain, is no longer present, there are still some minor lingering issues that teach me that there is no such thing as perfect health. My body is still speaking to me and it would be unfair for me to put up a front that everything about my health is perfect. That is just not how the body works for any of us! However, it is very important and significant to remember the health from which I came, the journey I struggled through to heal my gut and the continuous way in which my body loves me and communicates to me.
This is me, this is my body, and this is my health.
I am confident that the work I’ve done has both healed the way my body showed chronic disease and now my truly healthy food lifestyle will aide in the prevention of many common forms of “dis-ease”.
I wish you all great health and I hope my updated story has provided some hope and inspiration. If you ever need support, guidance or coaching, don’t hesitate to reach out. I am here to coach people out and away from the road of “dis-ease” and toward optimal (but never perfect!) health.