Not Your Ordinary Youngster
Growing up in the Ouachita Mountains and spending many summer days soaking in the icy cold waters of the Little Missouri River, I probably had a rather unusual childhood for an older millennial. My favorite foods included boiled okra, frog legs, and fresh-picked blackberries, and I would spend entire days outside making videos in the forest with a giant 1980’s camcorder. On rainy days, I stayed inside and wrote novellas or read the encyclopedia. Sometimes I perused anatomy textbooks and drew diagrams of human organs.
By age 8, I had an extensive watch collection and would go nowhere without wearing at least one digital watch (with stopwatch capabilities) on my wrist. This is what I used to measure and track my pulse — and the pulses of my peers — during recess at school. It was through all this measuring and tracking that I began to discover bioindividuality and the fact that I could control my heart rate with my mind and breath. This is what piqued my interest in health and the human body, and how we can “hack” our health and ultimate destiny through tracking, self-awareness, and lifestyle strategies.
You may not be too surprised to learn at this point that I was (and still am) a bit socially awkward, so I had a real difficulty making friends in public school. I began to figure out that the way to make friends was to try and fit in by mimicking what the other kids were doing. Boiled okra was decidedly gross. I would have to start eating Lunchables and Hawaiian Punch to fit in. I would have to pretend to not be that intrigued by science.
My junk food habit began to escalate. I ate Little Debbie snack cakes for breakfast, Hot Pockets and Bugles for lunch, and Frankenberries for supper. Sometimes I would crack open a can of Grands flaky biscuits and eat the entire can of biscuits as a meal because Grands was what the cool kids ate. The best breakfast of all (saved for the weekends) was a cheese omelette and a pint of chocolate ice cream. When I had friends over for sleepovers, we would raid the kitchen for all things made of chocolate for a bedtime snack. Then we’d wake up with a sugar hangover and then fuel back up on Pop-Tarts while watching Saved by The Bell.
Processed Food Began To Take A Toll on My Body
Eventually I began to develop asthma, migraine headaches, and an itchy rash on my arms and legs that would come and go. Conventional medicine had few answers: a corticosteroid inhaler for asthma attacks, pain medication for the migraines, and coal tar for the rash. Deep down, I believed there must be some way to tackle the root cause of these issues.
Keep in mind that all this was happening before the age of the internet. This was during the age of 1-800 numbers in lieu of website addresses on product packaging and movie trailers. I made a point of calling the 1-800 numbers of every product package of every item in the house just to let the company know my opinion of their product.
One life-changing day, I went to see the movie Free Willy in the theater. (If you haven’t seen the movie, Willy is a whale held captive by Sea World.) At the end of the movie, there was an advertisement to help “Save the Whales” by calling 1-800-GREENPEACE. Of course, I called the number, input my mailing address, and began receiving all kinds of media from Greenpeace. Just so you know, Greenpeace shares their mailing list with PETA, so I also began getting information from PETA. The reason why this was life-changing for me is that the information from PETA made a connection between what we eat and our own personal health. I was 12 years old at the time, so I did not have much control over the food that came into the house, but I made the choice to eat a mostly lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with the occasional fish.
Vegetarianism Wasn’t The Answer Although I Tried
Unfortunately, a mostly lacto-ovo vegetarian diet failed to fix my migraines, asthma, and unusual rash. When I went off to Hendrix College, I decided to go completely vegan. Interestingly enough, going vegan really did help my migraines and skin condition, but new problems began to crop up. After about two years of veganism, I started to experience a lot of digestive issues and fatigue. However, I chalked it up to stress from Organic Chemistry and Calculus taken concurrently, pushed through another two years until graduation, and then moved off to San Diego for graduate school.
Opting out of the conventional medical education system, I had decided to study acupuncture and Chinese Medicine instead of the mechanistic model of medicine that dominates our culture today. It was while I was in San Diego that I began practicing yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, and drinking Kombucha every day. I kept on adhering to the vegan diet, but at night I was dreaming about cheeseburgers. My digestion was terrible, and I was still having asthma attacks.
My Battle With Gluten
Then one day in class I learned about celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Perhaps my daily blueberry bran muffin breakfast and Ezekiel bread avocado toast bedtime snack weren’t doing me any favors. Perhaps I was dreaming of cheeseburgers because my body needed some of the nutrients found in animal products. The first thing I did, of course, was eliminate the gluten and start taking vegan multivitamins and algal-based DHA. I didn’t notice much of a difference in how I was feeling, except that I felt hungry even when my stomach was full.
My Introduction to an Autoimmune Protocol Diet
By the end of my first year studying Chinese Medicine, I had learned about how to do an elimination diet to help pinpoint food
sensitivities. What was simply called an elimination diet in the early 00’s is what is now more commonly known as the autoimmune protocol. There are some slight variations in how to do the autoimmune protocol — including the nuances of how to start adding food categories back into your diet — and I have written a book about my variation of the protocol in Healing With Paleo: A Step-By-Step Guide to the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, which is available in paperback, hardback, audiobook, and kindle ebook format. This is the method that I used to slowly add back meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs into my diet while temporarily removing nuts, seeds, nightshades, grains, legumes, and starches. After doing the protocol, my digestion improved dramatically, my energy levels soared, and it has now been over 12 years since I had an asthma attack. I am now able to tolerate nightshades, legumes, rice, and small amounts of nuts and seeds. In fact, I now thrive on including starches in my diet that would have previously wrecked my digestion.
In 2007, I completed my Master’s degree in Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine, and in 2009 I became certified in Functional Medicine. This year (2016), I completed my Doctorate in Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work 1-on-1 with individuals from all over the world to help them biohack their own health conditions using a combination of ancient wisdom, modern functional medicine diagnostics, and paleo-friendly lifestyle strategies. I’m also the founder of Biohacker Bar, which is a paleo protein bar made with grass-fed collagen, MCT oil, prebiotic fiber, and of course, organic cacao.