Today is National Senior Health and Fitness Day. I didn't know that until someone contacted me and asked me to come speak with a group of seniors who called an assisted living residence in Chicago home. I was excited to meet with the group, and pondered what I should talk about to introduce myself. I mean, these people have probably heard it all, and many are living with chronic diseases I don't have to cope with. So going in with a "eat this, not that" approach probably wouldn't cut it. I decided to tell them something personal about me, more to the point, how my own diet nearly killed me.
For the last 16 years, I've been working in health and fitness. Prior to that, I wasn't so healthy. I thought I was. I ate everything I thought was healthy. Like a lot of people did then (and many still do now), I reached for anything that had the words low fat, diet or fat free on the label. Somehow, fewer calories equated to healthy. I winced at the thought of ever eating nuts, avocados or an egg for a snack.
At the same time I loaded up my shopping cart with junkie SnackWells cookies and bagels, I also stock-piled diet sodas and 200-calorie frozen meals. I managed to pepper in a few green apples, but produce wasn't exactly a priority.
What was I thinking? I was responsible and intelligent. I had a good job, paid rent, exercised and managed good relationships with my friends. How could I have been so far off with my own personal health?
Health. This tricky six-letter-word actually has a lot to do with what we eat. Health doesn't come without strings attached. We have to actually encourage it, nourish it and be aware of the signs when health isn't as good as it could be. I ignored those signs.
For years I lived a life eating mostly processed foods. Sure, I ate home-cooked meals vegetables and fruits from time-to-time, but in my 20s, I simply took my health for granted.
One day I started feeling off. I really don't have a better word to use than "off." And that off feeling lingered for about a week. I didn't have a fever, a cold, sniffles, and I wasn't unusually fatigued. But something wasn't right. Nonetheless, I did what those of us who don't yield to signs we can't put a name on do...pushed through it.
Then one day I woke up with a weird lump under my left arm. It was protruding and somewhat sore to touch. It was close to Christmas, so I decided to wait and see what would happen. This "wait and see" included a six-hour car ride home from Minneapolis to Hubertus, Wisconsin - where my family lived.
By the time I got home, that lump under my arm blew up and my entire body was now under attack. I could feel my body slowly shutting down minute by minute. My mother, who worked in surgery at the time, wanted to investigate what was going on. She helped me remove my once loos-fitting long sleeve red t-shirt, which was now tightly bound around my arm. She lifted up my arm and saw what I had been feeling. My arm was swollen from shoulder to elbow and the inflammation under my arm was out of control.
An infected lymph node? We thought. As the waves of fevers came an went over the next few hours, we decided to go to our local community hospital where I was seen quickly and sent home with a bag of Vicodin and told to "come back in a fews days to have the area lanced." I left the hospital with a bedpan to catch vomit. On my way out of ER, I overheard a nurse say to the doctor attending to me, "are you sure you want to let her go home?"
The next day was awful and things went from bad to worse. Since my confidence in our local hospital wasn't ranking very high, my mother took me to the hospital at which she worked. There, I was seen by a vascular surgeon within 15 minutes. The diagnosis was something I had only heard once before on The Today Show. A guest on the show had a horrible bacteria that literally attacked his body - in his case, his face. "My gut is telling me this is necrotizing fasciitis." I had the flesh eating bacteria.
Within minutes I was prepped for my first of a couple surgeries. The first removed the lymph nodes from my left underarm and subsequent surgeries removed tissue from my left arm and back. The physical recovery was a couple months, but the mental recovery was a little longer.
How could that happen to me? Why did that happen to me? Sure, it could have happened to anyone, but in the research I've done and the based on what medical practitioners told me while in the hospital...something allowed a fairly common bacterial we're all in contact with to mutate in my body.
Simply put: my immune system wasn't where it should have been. I needed to change.
I didn't drink a lot. I never smoked. I never used drugs. But I ate shit. All the time.
Now, 16 years later, I've had plenty of time to reflect. I no longer eat shit. I don't think anyone should eat shit. Now I do what I do.
Prior to getting sick, I had a masters in communication and worked in marketing. I've since become a personal trainer and received a second masters in health and nutrition education.
Today I'm grateful to have experienced what I did. If I would have known then what I know now, my outlook and my motivation for needing to stay healthy would be different.
Health is so important. It's everything. We don't have complete control, but we can always try our best.
I'm very fortunate in that my message reaches masses through my book, The Belly Burn Plan, which talks all about hormonal balance through anti-inflammatory foods. That book would not have happened had it not been for me having to make a leap of faith. More importantly, I wouldn't have been able to have the privilege of meeting people like I did today at the senior living center. I might never have known it was National Senior Health and Fitness Day.
That makes it all worth it!
Today, I choose health. Join the conversation and connect with me through my newsletter.