Posts Tagged ‘Functional Medicine’

How Functional Medicine is transforming my health

I am not a diabetic. I am a person with diabetes. I am not any of the health conditions that have plagued me in recent years. I am a whole person, a complex biological system that should not be chopped up into little segments. This is why I’ve embraced Functional Medicine, and it’s transforming my health.

I could just as easily say “Functional Medicine has transformed my health” — because it already has — but I don’t see wellness as a finite goal. I see it as a continuum, part of my everyday experience. It is my everyday experience, because every part of my life is fueled by my wellness, and vice versa.

img_1825My health transformation began in 2013, when I was significantly overweight. I could attribute some of it to bad habits, but a rapid piling on of the pounds in a single year made me think there was more to it than that. And I was right.

I wasn’t just overweight. I struggled to control my Type 1 diabetes. I was taking two blood pressure medications, one medication to manage my gastrointestinal troubles and another to manage my hormones. I suffered from insomnia, inflammation, lack of energy and various musculoskeletal woes.

Even though I write about healthcare for a living, all the things I was told would help weren’t getting me anywhere. When I talked to one of my doctors about losing weight, he told me, “Don’t eat bread.” When I asked for more guidance he shrugged and said, “I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Fortunately, a friend told me about Functional Medicine, a truly patient-centered approach to health and wellness that looks at the root causes of disease. It combines traditional medicine with holistic, naturopathic modalities and focuses on answering the question, “What is the root cause of these health issues?” instead of simply trying to mask or correct the symptoms with medication. Functional Medicine looks at all the factors that might impact a person’s health and then creates a personalized plan of action.

I started working with a Functional Medicine practitioner, Heidi Iratcabal, N.D. After one of the most thorough medical histories I’ve ever experienced, she identified a primary cause of my health issues as being in my gut. My gut bacteria was completely out of whack and causing a host of problems throughout my body. She told me that the responsibility to make the necessary lifestyle changes was all mine, but that she would walk with me on the journey.

With Heidi’s guidance, I went on a personalized healing and elimination diet, to zero in on foods that might be contributing to my poor health due to allergies or sensitivities. The first month was rough, which she warned me would be the case. My body was detoxing. I was addicted to refined carbohydrates and sugar. But once I got through that, I started to feel better.

Since then, I have never stopped feeling better.

AnnePicI eliminated all the problematic foods from my diet: gluten, dairy, sugar, anything GMO or processed — including corn and soy — and anything pumped with chemicals or antibiotics. It’s not a fad diet. It’s a way of clean eating that ditches ingredients that create inflammation in my body in favor of whole, real food. I’ve upped the nutritional value of my diet immeasurably, although judicious use of supplements has helped, too.

I lost 100 pounds over 18 months almost effortlessly. The better I felt, the more motivated I was to start walking and practicing yoga regularly, and work on reducing stress (a big issue for me and my health) — and the circle of wellness has continued perpetuating itself. It’s not just about what I eat. It’s about how I feel and how I live.

I eat really well, as much as I want of the foods I do eat. My diet isn’t really all that limited, and it includes a few treats here and there, like some occasional dairy-free ice cream. By rediscovering my cooking skills (thanks, Mom!), I make incredibly yummy food. I call it my “new fooditude” and created a Pinterest board where lots of my favorite recipes live.

But it’s not just about weight loss. It’s about how my entire body has responded in positive ways to my lifestyle changes. My insomnia is gone. I’ve stopped taking hormones, stomach medicine and blood pressure medication. I take less insulin than ever, even though I’ll always need it. All the lab tests that measure my health continue improving or holding at a good place. I’m happier, too. Less stressed out, in part because I know that I am in charge of my health, and I now understand that everything I think manifests in my well-being.

While working with Heidi, I’ve continued seeing my traditional practitioners. One of my doctors said to me recently, “I never imagined I’d ever see a patient transform their health this way.”

Yet he never asked how I did it. He’s impressed by the lab results, but doesn’t seem to have any interest in learning what I did that might help his other patients.

Fortunately, the mainstream is starting to recognize that Functional Medicine works. The Cleveland Clinic has opened a Center for Functional Medicine, which means this evidence-based, personalized approach will start reaching more and more Americans.

2015I’ve never felt better. And I’ll never go back, because I now know what it means to live in true wellness and vitality, even as I manage life with a chronic condition.

I am not my disease. I am not a collection of health issues and symptoms. I am a whole person, who deserves healthcare that treats me as such.

With Functional Medicine, I’ve found an approach that sees me for everything I am — mind, body and spirit. Perhaps most exciting of all, it’s an approach that’s put me in charge because I no longer feel like I’m trying to “treat” conditions only a doctor could fix. With the guidance of my healthcare team, I make the decisions that have transformed my entire body into a healthier place to live.

I don’t define myself as a diabetic. Finally, I’ve found an approach to wellness that doesn’t define me that way, either.

[Photo credits: LAF Lines Photography (top and bottom) and Anne Savage (center).]

Sharing my own story of healthcare

I’ve been telling stories of other people’s healthcare experiences for years, but I’ve never had anyone tell my story as a patient — until now.

I’m proud to have joined the ranks of The Walking Gallery of Healthcare, an advocacy movement created by activist/artist/author/speaker Regina Holliday. I’ll let Regina’s words explain:

‘The Walking Gallery’ … consists of medical providers and advocates who wear patient story paintings on the backs of business suits. [Members wearing] personal patient narrative paintings on their backs is changing minds and opening hearts. They are attending medical conferences where often there isn’t a patient speaker on the dais or in the audience. They are providing a patient voice, and by doing so, are changing the conversation.

IMG_5820I’ve long known the power of storytelling to educate and engage, so it’s no wonder I felt a kinship with Regina the moment we met at the Families USA Health Action conference in January 2014. That’s when I learned more about The Walking Gallery, and knew I had to join.

I needed to tell Regina my personal patient story so she could interpret it and paint it on a jacket in her own unique style. Back when we met, my story was still unfolding, but by this summer I finally knew how to articulate the healthcare journey I’d been on.

As a person with diabetes, I’ve sometimes struggled to be as healthy as I might be. My health declined in the wake of my parents’ serious illnesses and subsequent deaths, combined with other life circumstances. But it wasn’t until about 18 months ago that I got serious about turning my health around.

My journey to health began in earnest in 2013, when my friend Juliet taught me about Functional Medicine, which uses a close patient-physician partnership to identify and address the underlying causes of disease. It’s truly patient-centered care that combines evidence-based medicine and alternative modalities to engage and empower patients in their own well-being.

Juliet introduced me to Heidi Iratcabal, N.D., and said, “Heidi changed my life.” My first encounter with Dr. Heidi was a project to write a bio for her website, and as she told me her philosophy of care and the principles of Functional Medicine, I thought, “This is what I’ve been looking for: a partner to walk with me on my journey to better health.”

WalkingGalleryJacketConventional doctors had done their best, but recommendations like “Don’t eat bread” were not good enough. I started on my path with Dr. Heidi in October 2013, and I’ve never looked back. With her guidance, I have used dietary and lifestyle changes to transform my health. Ten months later, I’ve never felt better.

I take less insulin than ever. I’ve stopped needing many of the medications I was taking. I’ve dropped my excess weight almost effortlessly. The long-term measure of my diabetes control, a hemoglobin A1c test, is nearly in the “non-diabetic” range after having been far too high. I no longer suffer from inflammation, stomach issues, insomnia and fatigue. I finally know what it feels like to feel well, to experience vitality — and to uncover the power of mind and spirit that was there all along, hiding behind my illness.

Functional Medicine, and a true partnership with a health practitioner, has changed my life. Regina understood that so well that she chose to paint me as an embodiment of patient empowerment — and she captured Heidi’s likeness in the painting without knowing who she is. That’s the magic of Regina’s artistry and compassion for the patient experience.

Functional Medicine is, in some ways, the culmination of my health journey. And it’s a new beginning in my life of wellness and vitality.

As everyone who is part of The Walking Gallery does, I will proudly wear my jacket at health conferences and other events where patients might not have a voice. It will give me an opportunity to share my story with others and engage people in new ways of thinking about health.

I’ll debut my jacket at the TEDMED conference in September, and will continue to walk with joy on the path Regina’s artwork captures so eloquently.

[Images – Top: Regina Holliday at Health Action, creating a painting I later won for using social media at the conference; Bottom: My jacket, entitled “We Can Do It,” by Regina Holliday, fresh off the artist’s easel.]