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I recently received an e-mail from a young woman who has been through the diet ringer as so many who have gravitated to 180DegreeHealth have.  From raw-foodie to low-carb Paleo, Sarah went through it all and got repeatedly punched in the face.  Just reading her story felt like I was on the receiving end of Mike Tyson or Rocky Balboa’s boxing gloves.  Extreme diets can definitely be formidible opponents, especially for a young kid with a well-intentioned but hopelessly lost mother as you are about to read. 

I take great pride in 180 having become a sanctuary for those who have tried all kinds of radical diets.  I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences.  “Screw ’em!” says Anthony Hopkins in Legend of the Fall.  Ferris Bueller’s sister said that as well I believe.  Anyway, here’s Sarah’s story.  I highlighted the craziest parts…

Hi, I’m Sarah, 26, mama to 2 little people, wife, bookstore owner, health obsessed, food obsessed, and adrenal fatigued beyond all understanding.

I was raised by a single mama, 7th child born (she was 44) – which already sets me up for disaster, I know. She raised me eating a diet based on her readings of Bernard Jensen, Dr. Christopher (and his Mucusless Diet), and Ann Wigmore. She did a lot of nutty things that in retrospect I recognize as very dangerous for a growing child (though her intentions were very well meaning). For instance, in high school, for a year she would force me to take apple cider vinegar, cayenne, and honey. And that was breakfast (and no more). I can’t tell you how bad those stomach burns were in first period Theater class. Or how horrible those hypoglycemic attacks were a couple unnourished hours later. Augh.

I started binging on junk food at a very young age, but it jumped a notch when I started living primarily with my mom at age 6. Vegan, low fat, high carbs, mostly salads. I was starving (in fact, at church functions I would head right for the cheese, butter, bread and meat). When I started making babysitting money at age 14, almost every day I would eat donuts, chips and ice cream for lunch. I soon after got awful acne, gained a couple pounds (for the first time ever), and started getting really tired.

The second year into this, my vision went from 20/15 to 20/30 overnight. A month later I was stuck in bed for two weeks with pneumonia. Try throwing up non-stop, drinking 3 gallons of water a day to keep from coughing, eating nothing, and laying in bed with 104 fever that won’t go away. Why, oh why my mom didn’t take me to the ER, I don’t know. Finally the fever left, and after 2-3 days I was better. But not really. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was left with an adrenal mess. I joined the track team the next year, and it was at that time that I realized something was wrong. Running at all felt like trying to walk through thigh-deep mud. It was awful, and after 3 months I finally quit. I was so, so tired all the time.

At 18, I became a raw foodist. I was obsessed entirely and completely. I was pregnant 3 months into it, and therefore became obsessed with purity. So fruitarian made perfect sense (rolling eyes here). I tried and I tried. I failed and I failed. At age 14 months old, my daughter suddenly showed signs of severe tooth decay (aka bottle mouth). I was devastated. What did I do wrong? She had never had sugar, meat, dairy, chemicals, processed foods, etc. How was it possible? I was at a loss, but decided it was because I hadn’t been able to attain a pure, 100% raw diet (those dang potatoes!), so I just tried harder.

(Sounds like Rami…)

Then a year later, I had baby number two. By the time he was a year old, my daughter’s teeth were so bad and I was just heartbroken (and just couldn’t bring myself to anesthetizing her so they could “fix” them all). Luckily at this time, I started reading about how a raw vegan diet was incomplete because primates eat bugs, therefore some animal matter was biologically correct. A mother had added raw goat dairy to her and her kiddo’s diet and found health to be a whole lot better. So I started justifying my occasional raw dairy binges. A year or so before, my sister had showed me Weston Price’s book, but I thought it was weird, outdated, and boring. I was 19 and thoroughly convinced that raw veganism would save the world. But now, I found references to him all over the place (even David Wolfe’s store sold the book! although, I think it has since been removed). So, I bit the hook and bought the book.

Thankfully, it snowballed into becoming fascinated with scientific reason. Unfortunately, all those years of thinking everything except fruits and vegetables was bad caused one massive 3 year long binge. Yes, I know. So brilliant. And when I say binge, I also mean sugar and processed crap. Each binge would last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months (the biggest, the longest, and one of the last caused me to gain 30 pounds…yikes!). During that time I started running (and got super skinny, and then proceeded to spend the entire day laying on the couch exhausted), did multiple juice/herbal fasts of every variety (in which I would actually gain weight), and read like crazy. Reading didn’t mean that I could stop myself from damaging my body though. 22 years of malnutrition and my body was toast and craving everything under the sun. No, I didn’t have antibiotic damage (thank the gods), or crazy partying damage, or the usual complaints. But my body was so, so starving.

A year ago, I went to the local ND to try and figure out why the heck I felt so exhausted 24/7, why I couldn’t lose any of my weight (even when juice fasting), and why I couldn’t think straight EVER. I was irritable, clumsy, frustrated by everything, and just wanted to take an eternal nap. I also had pretty bad cystic acne, and had been dealing with pinched nerves in my arms for a couple of years (relieved by chiropractic/massage care, but not fixed – still have these issues). He had me do the adrenal saliva test. Results came back that I produce almost no cortisol ever. Like almost zero. DHEA was borderline bad, insulin doesn’t rise after eating food (so it’s the same whether I’m fasting or full), and my immune system wasn’t even working (which I thought was strange because I never, ever get sick).

I tried doing his recommendations and supplements, but it caused PCOS symptoms to show up. Great. So, I quit. I had quit doing cardio exercises, and was doing strength training. I was trying really hard to sleep more (since my cortisol levels fell in the normal range at night – even though production is next to nothing – I was/am wide awake and can’t fall asleep to save my life before midnight). I became obsessed with Anthropology (fantasizing about getting a PhD and saving the world Paleo style) and the Paleo diet. I stopped eating grains for long periods of times (including all starches), and for the most part didn’t eat carbs much at all (excepting for those binges – anything chocolate was in trouble then!). Honestly, I was starving. My hunger itself diminished, but there was just some gnawing feeling that I was really, really starving. About August, I started eating 1200 or less calories a day – I would skip dinner. I lost 17 pounds over a period of 5 months. It was easy (after the hunger dimished), felt great, instantly satisfied me, and I was happy. Then the holidays came and I decided I deserved a treat. Then it became more like 200 treats. And 10 pounds.

So fast forward to today. I’m still flat-out tired all the time (and have the horrible acne and pinched nerves). I’m trying really hard to make myself go to bed at 8pm (and hopefully fall asleep between 9-10) for that extra-needed rest. I’m suspicious of my ND’s hormone recommendations after doing research online – a friend who did the same protocol (and recovered from severe adrenal fatigue) just relapsed and is exhausted again. Dr. Schwarzbein makes it seem like I need to hook up with an endocrinologist NOW and get on HRTs. The day I found your blog -> website -> ebooks, I was researching lectins, plant toxins and anything else I could find that would explain why I felt so shitty.

Then I read this: And I read some comment somewhere about how one can observe evolution happening instantly in a petree dish. It hit me – duh, why can’t humans adapt to starch over a period of thousands of years? We do make an enzyme to digest starch specifically. So why not? Then I started reading your website, ordered your books, inhaled your Metabolism book in 2 hours flat, and felt more relief than I’ve felt in a decade. Of course, that doesn’t fix my exhaustion, but you might comprehend the level of food obsession I endured. The hunger. It sucked. I don’t know how many calories I’m consuming at the moment, but I know that my great-great-great grandma would be proud. I didn’t realize how little I was eating. And you know, even though I’ve banned myself from the scale, I don’t think I’m gaining weight, and I might even be losing just a little bit. And you know what? I don’t care. Because I know that I am now committed to fixing this for the long haul. No more quick “fixes” (aka damages). I’m ready to truly care about my health instead of my weight.

But what to do about the adrenal fatigue? I’m resting, not exercising, eating as much fat as I can handle (I’ve already been on board with the high fat diet, so that was easy), actually eating carbs and loving it (gasp), and cutting down on the fruit (down to grapefruit – oh, and that occasional chocolate, though the cravings are greatly dimished). In your research, have you found that someone with severe adrenal fatigue should go down to the local doc and get a prescription for bio-identical hormones? Or what should I read/learn about here? I’ve spent so many hours of research and gotten all the opinions leaning one way or another. I’m still sorely confused.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks for your awesome information and quirky sense of humor!

-Sarah Braun
Roots and Branches Photography

I of course told her to try eating well for once in her life.  HRT is a life-sentence and a last resort, and something few fertile 26-year old women need to improve their health.