As a child, I remember traveling in our station wagon, windows barely cracked, breathing in cigarette smoke that filled the air as both my parents smoked in the front seat. My mother, following the advice of our pediatrician, had switched me from breast milk to cow’s milk at a very young age. Looking back on my childhood, the stage was set; I suffered from early digestive issues and recall multiple trips to the pediatrician’s office with swollen tonsils and ear infections. In fact, I can vividly remember the distinct smell of my pediatricians’ office! Most visits were followed by another round of antibiotics.
I would come home from grade school and grab one of my favorites after school snacks from Little Debbie, either a Fudge Round or Star Crunch. I stayed active, playing football, basketball and baseball. My mother had to run me around daily to all the different after school sports. I remember eating dinner quickly, with the aroma of Hamburger Helper or Tuna Helper filling the kitchen. My diet was lack-luster, to say the least; however, I remained active and had not really noticed any problems.
One morning during sixth grade, I woke up with a very high fever. The fever was so high that my mother rushed me to the doctor. The fever was associated with enlarged lymph nodes of the neck. My neck was so big, I looked like an NFL linebacker! I was diagnosed with Mono, caused by Epstein-Barr Virus. I missed weeks of school with an enlarged spleen, enlarged lymph nodes, severe fatigue and high fevers.
Fast forward to Sophomore year of college. I carried a heavy course load, felt very overwhelmed and ate whatever the basement vending machine had to offer. Needless to say, I was lacking many nutrients from the choices of cellophane wrapped snacks available. When I did eat in the dining hall, I could not resist my ultimate favorite, a belgian waffle topped with chocolate frozen yogurt and granola. Because of my heavy course load, I had to forgo exercise and opted to fuel with more sugar. I would stay up late studying, munching on my favorite candy, Mike and Ikes. It was at this moment when the lifestyle I had chosen to live finally caught up to me. I became severely depressed, wanting to sleep all day long with no motivation to go out with friends. I had an insatiable sugar addiction; I gained over 20 pounds and developed high blood pressure.
One day, I was putting on my deodorant and to my surprise, I noticed a large knot. I recall being very concerned and rushed to the clinic on campus. I developed many enlarged lymph nodes and had abnormal lab findings; my doctors thought I may have lymphoma. I was referred to Hematology/Oncology where I ended up getting a bone marrow biopsy which showed I had developed iron deficiency anemia. Deep down (call it a “gut reaction”) I knew I did not have cancer. The signs and symptoms were most likely related to my diet, stress, lack of exercise during my Sophomore year.
One row ahead of me in my Organic Chemistry class, sat a good friend of mine. He spent hours in the gym and diet was a major focus of his. One day we met up for lunch at the dining hall. He introduced me to a book called The Zone Diet. I read the book cover to cover; I was so intrigued I could not put it down. It ignited my passion for nutrition, detailing the powerful influence of food on hormones and inflammation, as well as the intricate connection between food and our genes.
After reading The Zone Diet, I began to incorporate dietary changes and add exercise back into my routine. I started to educate myself on how to fuel and nourish. With a new motivation and hard work, I was eventually able to reverse my high blood pressure, lose the excess 20 pounds and correct my lab findings. I can attribute most of the positive change to my diet; I experienced the power of food first hand!
Fast forward to present day…I am a board certified physician with ten years of hospital experience. I have competed in several triathlon events, as well as various distance events of running and cycling. Most recently, I completed an Ironman Triathlon in September 2019.
With the proper diet and nutrition strategy, I have been able to avoid common injuries and recover quickly from such rigorous events and training. I am continually amazed by the human body and its potential to heal when given the proper support.