Jan 18, 2023

Cultivating Health, Mid-January Edition

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I’ve never been able to predict the journey the Lord will take me on each year—He often surprises me! When I chose my word for 2023, I had no idea how much I’d learn about my health in even the first 17 days of the year. Summarizing what led me here felt a bit daunting, but this was important to write, even just for myself. Writing is one way I acknowledge change and accept it. I feel restless when words need to be written, so here I am, pushing myself to write them and welcome this shift in my health journey. This post kicks off a new mid-month series where I’ll give a quick update (this first post is longer to give you the backstory!) on things I’m trying with my health and progress/blunders along the way. Affiliate links are used in this post. Enjoy!

First, a disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, and nothing shared in these posts is prescriptive or an endorsement for you to try. As I’m learning, our bodies have unique needs. I hope, if anything, this series encourages you to try new things and take care of your health in whatever ways are best for you. I know for sure I’ll make mistakes along this journey. I’ll likely look back on these posts, even a few months from now, and have made discoveries and adjustments. I’m sure there will be times I say to myself, “What was I thinking trying that!?” That’s part of the fun: digging into the process together. To close my disclaimer, 1 Timothy 4:8 says it all: ‘For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.’ My spiritual health is more valuable than my physical health, but they do intertwine. Cultivating a thriving relationship with God involves my physical, emotional, and environmental states. Looking at my overall health has given me new motivation to love others well and, hopefully, do more of what God wants me to do in this life. With all of this in mind, let’s do this. I’m grateful you’re here with me!

My first biking race with dad.

A little backstory. I’ve always thought of myself as a healthy person. I walk daily, try to eat well, and was a personal trainer for several years. My great-grandfather started a bit of a “health nut” legacy in our family as an early adopter of vitamins and exercise equipment. He was born before the turn of the century and lived to be 95 years old—incredible! My dad followed suit, eating superfoods all his life and teaching me about fitness. Close friends remember his daily 30+ mile bike rides in his signature yellow windbreaker. He took a trip to Alaska with my brother years ago to bike and see the wild salmon he loved to eat. Blueberry picking with dad was a favorite, and he ate them as often as possible. He was proud to be one of the founding members of our local co-op. Dad was a health enthusiast – emphasis on enthusiasm. He had such joy in it all! I took after him with a love for good nutrition and active youth, dancing ballet and jazz all through college, teaching yoga, running, and lifting weights. I got my training certification with NASM after college in 2002. It was a great fit. I loved helping people uncover what matters and reach their goals. I even met Ari while training clients in the gym.

Fast forward to starting a magazine, growing a company, and then becoming a mom 11 years ago, and somewhere in it all, I left the gym and stopped lifting weights. I’ve stayed fairly active, but it was tricky as a new mom and business owner to get to the gym. Five years after having Grace, in 2016, I experienced a turning point in my body’s capacity to deal with stress. We had another new baby, adopted six months later, and a few months after that, I injured my neck. I was digging up the old roots of a plant in our yard (yep, I was gardening, of all things!) and thought I just strained a muscle. It turned out to be a disc pressing on my spinal cord. The hardest part of it all was sleep. I was consistently up 10-20 times each night, unable to get comfortable. My gardening mishap turned into long-term chronic pain. I went to physical therapy, tried cervical pillows, had several intralaminar steroid injections, took NSAIDS, had MRIs, and was gifted heating pads from loving friends. I eventually saw a surgeon who told me surgery wouldn’t take my pain away. It seemed like there were no options. Ari and I paused after years of dead ends to simply pray and wait for God’s answers.

In 2020, seemingly unrelated, I developed heart pain. The cardiologist encouraged me to explore a few rabbit trails from the test results, just in case. Those rabbit trails led to an array of blood tests and hematology appointments. No one could make heads or tails of the results. I was severely anemic, had inflammatory markers, and there were puzzling findings on tests they don’t normally run. My doctor said, “Well, it seems like you have an autoimmune disease brewing, but we don’t know what it is yet. The next step is to do a bone marrow biopsy.”

My dad’s health declined around this time, and I was weary from the testing and chronic lack of sleep. Was any of it even connected?? My hip and hand joints were flaring up, too. Add normal life to this in running a growing business, homeschooling, and having a kiddo with extra sensory needs, and I was low on resilience. I focused on loving our family as best I could and trying to live numbered days. When I started losing my hair in handfuls at a time each day, though, it was another sign that something wasn’t right. I reached out to a couple of friends in the hair industry, and they both said, “You could try all these products, but… stress. Do whatever you can to reduce stress first.”

A comment here on a blog post from two years ago stuck with me from Ashley B: “I am a now retired family practice doctor (retired early to be a stay-at-home wife and mom). I remember well all the patients who had any kind of vertebral surgery when I was in residency. Those patients often did not fare well. If it were my body, I would do everything possible before surgery… whatever it took to avoid surgery. Many times people hold stress in their necks, so if rest goes up and stress goes down, neck pain improves.

Ah, those last few words. I couldn’t put my discs back in place myself or understand what was happening with these blood tests, but various stressors in life were making the pain worse by causing inflammation. God used this time to humble me. I just couldn’t do it all—or even half as much as I could years ago. I needed to slow down more than I thought. I didn’t want to, but my body was telling me otherwise. As I shared with you many years ago, there’s the popular phrase, “She believed she could, so she did.” I know a deeper truth: “She believed she couldn’t, so God did.”

In all of this, as crazy as it may seem at first, the last seven years have been… a gift. I’ve been unable to do many of the things I want to do, experienced times I couldn’t feel my feet or hands, taking trips to the ER, and yet, in it all, my faith has grown. I’ve experienced the kindness of friends and strangers, more closeness with God and reliance on Him, and a deeper bond in our marriage. I’ve seen my limits and repeated this old hymn lyric to myself many times over: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Knowing this body of mine will be resurrected new one day gives me great comfort. This pain is temporary. Praise the Lord!

Getting all these tests and appointments, even with no answers, has also grown my gratitude. Staff members were often taken aback, wondering why I was so happy to be there getting blood drawn or a scan done. My response was, and is, always the same, “I’m just grateful to be able to do this.” Healthcare is something I do not take for granted.

In this time of testing, God also orchestrated things that weren’t about me. You never know how the seeds of joy and gratitude you plant will grow long after you’re gone. There’s always more than we can see on the surface—in our bodies and lives. I felt His nudge to encourage the nurses, docs, techs, front desk friends, and other patients at each appointment, and I have distinct memories of those interactions. God also allowed my children to see me suffer and rely on Him when I felt scared or exhausted. They’ve been gentle and understanding when I couldn’t pick them up or needed a few extra minutes to get out of bed in the morning. And I’ve been able to better understand when friends experience chronic pain. All of this, and more, is a gift.

I painted this history in broad strokes for you—there’s more—but this is what felt best to share. All of this has been the fuel to ignite the faith I have now and the learning I’m doing today. When you are tired of something for long enough, you will find a way to either live with it or change it. If the latter, change doesn’t always happen on our timetable. It can happen slowly, and sometimes it happens in what seems like an instant—from an unexpected life circumstance or, in my case, from a long journey that opened my eyes. What feels like a fast change over the first days of this new year is, in reality, seven years of sleepless nights and unexplained health conundrums that left me open at this moment to do anything that will help my body to heal. This openness could also be called a willingness to learn—a readiness to try new things at 43!

Friends with sensory challenges in your house will know what the red and yellow cards are!

If you and I had a secret handshake, it would have a not-so-secret meaning: little by little steps add up. : ) Each month, I’ll share some of my little steps forward and any good things I’m noticing. This month’s list will likely be the biggest, but who knows where the Lord will lead. All I know right now is I am learning, and I’m hopeful.

January Steps Forward:
—A conversation with my brother over Thanksgiving got me thinking about the inflammation throughout my system. It could be caused by an underlying disease or what I was eating or stress—or all of it. I’m not sure yet, but I’m getting closer to finding out. Till then, I’ve been devouring any information I can find on inflammation and how to reduce it. My brother suffered a spinal cord injury years ago and knows a thing or two about this. He noticed the pain I was in when caring for my dad last year, and we started swapping notes. He gave me a crash course in inflammatory foods and introduced me to my new BFF: turmeric.
—I made solid progress on my anemia last year with a diet overhaul and supplements. My ferritin finally reached a normal range, and I felt a difference in my energy. My brother, however, pointed out that parts of this high-iron diet were messing with my body’s inflammation and potentially flaring up my joint pain, namely red meat. With clearance from my doc, I was eating it almost daily. I increased my supplements and focused more on omega-3s while reducing omega-6s, which can cause inflammation. Through a ton of research, I changed my diet to antiinflammatory whole foods. I’ve incorporated fish, fermented foods, and immune-boosting phytochemicals using more veggies and spices.
—Those first two points would have been enough, but they go hand-in-hand with the most beneficial shift: I’ve taken a deep dive into functional medicine. I have learned, UN-learned, and it is all blowing my mind. I checked out a few books at the library and became a daily listener of The Doctor’s Farmacy podcast, The Huberman Lab, and others. I got on a waitlist with a local functional medicine doctor. She can’t see me till the end of the year, but I trust it will be worth the wait. I also got on a waitlist with a functional medicine/holistic gynecologist. I had biomarker testing done while I wait for my functional medicine appointment later in the year. I’m curious to see what these tests reveal.
—I joined a virtual group training program for women who love to hike. This has been way outside my comfort zone, but it’s exactly what I needed at this point in my life. I am lifting heavier weights three times a week, tracking my nutrients, and fueling myself differently for workouts. I laid a foundation with light weights at home last year, and this training program has been a great next step. I’m hopeful my strength training will further stabilize my neck and joints. The program includes bodyweight exercises, functional movements, power, and gradually gaining stability for heavy lifting. Exercises have been modified for my neck, and my trainer has been helpful with nutrition, too. I was so sore the first week that I couldn’t sit in a chair without wincing, but I. Love. It.
—I changed my supplements to help with inflammation and my gut health. I was already taking a 40+ multi and iron supplements. Through a ton of research, I included omega-3s, biotin, probiotics, turmeric with black pepper, MCT oil from coconuts, collagen powder, and elderberry with zinc when I feel I need it.
—Ari, the kids, and even my mom are trying new things, too. Our kids ate rainbow chard salad—by request—this weekend. Ari asked me to find him an omega-3 supplement and probiotics. My mom asked me to find her a cod-liver oil supplement (she has never even taken a multivitamin in her life!). And my kids can’t wait to take their omega-3s every day. Josh made a leap with his reading in school this week and said matter-of-factly, “Mom, it’s proooobably the fish oil.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I’m glad he’s enjoying it. 🙂
—We’ve continued to remove toxins from our house, artificial dyes, etc. We’ve also been more conscious of making environmentally sound and sustainable choices.
—I collected recipes and have continued to love cooking. For as long as she’s had a smartphone, my French chef mom has sent me daily pictures of what she’s cooking. I’m returning the enthusiasm with my own pics for her! She loves that I’m into it : )
—We swapped some of our cookware for healthier choices. I invested in a cast-iron grill pan, and my mom gave me a non-toxic dutch oven for my birthday. I’ve used it several times a week for soups.
—I glued magnets to the back of the Cultivate meal-planner notepad and have a plan for each day of the week. I use Pinterest to find recipes, and one, in particular, has become a new family staple. This Tuscan soup with fennel is incredible.
—I changed deodorant. I know I’m late to the no-aluminum party. In all of this, I feel like I’ve been under a rock of sorts, but I keep reminding myself it’s never too late to make better choices.
—We ate more from our winter garden (kale, chard, etc.). Grace is especially excited about our herb, tea, and veggie garden for the spring. We ordered new seeds to try from Baker Creek Seeds, Johnny’s Seeds, and Floret. I’ll share what we’re planting in another post.
—Recommended by friends, I’m giving red light therapy and cryotherapy a try. Have you ever tried these? I’m already cold thinking about cryo.
—Ari and I started listening to functional medicine podcasts at night instead of watching TV (a habit picked up in 2020). It has been fun to dig into this together.

The smoked paprika is the secret ingredient to the Tuscan Fennel Soup! Sooooo good.


Good Things This Month:
– I was able to stop taking Nexium after 12 years.
– I stopped all NSAIDs.
– I’ve gone from being up a dozen or more times a night with my neck to maybe five times (!!!).
– I have had far less inflammation in my other joints. My hips haven’t woken me up in the night lately. This is huge.
– I’ve gained physical strength. I couldn’t hold a 60-second plank before, and now I can. Baby steps.
– The Isaacsons are trying new things. My family is making healthier choices, enjoying our meals more, and trying new foods.
– To boot, I’ve had more energy and general happiness.

Phew! You guys. I am thankful. Thanks for sticking with me through the backstory that brought us here. And thank you to many of you who have prayed for me at various points in this journey. I’m excited to keep learning and taking small steps forward. I’ll look forward to a quick check-in next month!

Your turn! How are you cultivating your health this year? Any favorites??


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12 Comments

  1. Brooke on January 18, 2023 at 8:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Lara! I experienced intermittent neck pain this past year to the point that I was completely incapacitated for an entire weekend toward the end of the summer – just a blip in time compared to what you’ve been dealing with, but it was challenging! A friend from my former handbell choir who is a PT at Meadowmont pointed out that it could’ve been related to the way that I was orienting my body and head toward patient and computer while in clinic, and since being mindful of this, I haven’t had an issue. I am grateful! Again, it was a very brief experience, but it was eye-opening! My cousin has gone DEEP down the inflammation/functional medicine road over the years, happy to connect you if it would be helpful; she has made her way through an impressive number of resources if you’re looking for ideas. Cheering you on!
    PS Agree with the surgery comment in your post. : )

    • Lara on January 22, 2023 at 8:08 am

      First, YES, I would love to talk with your cousin. Thank you, friend! I’m so sorry you had such a rough bout with neck pain. It radiates everywhere, and I can’t imagine trying to see patients in clinic while it’s happening. I am SO thankful it eased! I felt so comforted reading your postscript, by the way. Thank you for that affirmation. P.S. I just got an email from the farmer’s market that they are starting to get busier, and lots of crops coming in. I’ll text you soon to see if we can meet when the weather is warm! : )

  2. Melissa on January 19, 2023 at 2:33 pm

    Hi Lara, I’m so glad to read that you’re seeing results in this new health chapter. I agree health is a unique journey for each person so it’s great to see you exploring alternative options instead of the one size fits all that seems to be common practice. Your achievement with getting off Nexium reminded me of a post by “naturalnursemomma” on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cmg31JTLNIX/ She shared how it contributes to several of the conditions you were experiencing. I pray you continue to see improvement in your health.

    There are several changes I’ve taken for my own health recently. I’ve switched out my pans to stainless steel and transitioned to glass for storage. I stopped taking supplements to get back to a baseline. And after 10+ years as pescatarian, I’ve reincorporated grass-fed beef and chicken back into my diet to make up for the missing nutrients and curb hunger. 😅 Already having an egg sausage sandwich for breakfast vs oatmeal is a pleasant game changer. I’m curious too how this impacts my health.

    Sending love and strength your way! 🤗

    • Lara on January 22, 2023 at 8:15 am

      Amazing! You sound very similar to my brother in your nutrition journey. He was vegan for many years and made the switch to incorporate grass-fed beef and chicken back in his diet to help his body continue to heal. Everyone is different, but for him, he gained quite a bit of muscle and told me he felt like he was in the best shape of his life last year. I love that you made similar swaps with cookware. I also switched out our storage for glass and have removed most plastic. I keep reading about switching to a savory breakfast instead of my usual oatmeal, but we will see! New things to try! And oh my stars, thank you for this link. Even more than my neck pain and any stress I’ve experienced over the last several years, I am most regretful for taking Nexium for so long. No doctor ever questioned it, and it never occurred to me to make a change. Very eye opening! I feel, for the first time, I am learning how to become my own health advocate. Thank you for all of your encouragement, friend. Sending love to you, too! 💗

  3. Casey on January 20, 2023 at 1:13 pm

    SO grateful for your update! Love hearing that you’re getting clarity and seeing progress.

    • Lara on January 22, 2023 at 8:04 am

      Love you so much, and, as always, I’m so thankful for your genuine encouragement. 💛

  4. Abby on January 21, 2023 at 12:27 pm

    Lara, so enjoyed reading this post and I’m glad to see that many of your little by little steps are adding up! Praise the Lord!! It’s amazing how God created real, whole foods for us to consume to steward our bodies.

    • Lara on January 22, 2023 at 10:23 am

      Thank you for the encouragement, Abby! Amen!!

  5. Gina on January 21, 2023 at 11:16 pm

    Goodness me you are doing ALL THE THINGS! SO DANG excited you are starting on this journey! Praying SO hard for your inflammation to lessen and God to heal so much during this time! YES too all the things Cast Iron, Cod Liver Oil, Red Light (it’s my favorite ever) and SO MANY THINGS!

    YAY girl! Get it!

    LOVE YOU!
    G

    • Lara on January 22, 2023 at 8:03 am

      I allllllmost titled this post, “All the things Gina has ever told me” 😉 I LOVE YOU!!!

  6. Amy on January 24, 2023 at 12:06 pm

    Welcome to the functional medicine party! It will seriously change your life in the best way. Knowledge is power! I’m so excited for you and hope that you continue to feel better. Not sure how you would feel about acupuncture or homeopathy, but they were missing pieces in my own wellness and they have been lifesavers!

  7. Ashley B on January 24, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    Lara,
    I had no idea how much my comment meant to you. I am a “silent stalker”….haha, meaning-I never, ever comment on blogs! I’ve not even on social media or anything. So that was totally from God, but that day, I just really felt led to share the info regarding neck surgery with you! So thankful that it was a blessing as you have in turn blessed my life more than you know. Before I retired from family medicine in 2020, I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was in residency. That was around 2012. I found Powersheets through a different blogger in 2017. We were in a huge time of transition in our family. I had chronic sleep loss at that time due to my second child being up in the night from teething. My ADHD was TERRIBLE, but the last thing I wanted to do was try traditional medicine. I, too, went the non-traditional route with some brain therapy (that ended up helping tremendously) as well as getting on the path to better sleep! We minimize it, but sleep is such a HUGE factor in our overall health-both physical AND emotional!!! So many links between sleep loss & mental health issues and stress! At any rate, it was at this time that I bought my first set of power sheets. January 2018 was a turning point for me & I have been a dedicated power sheets user ever since. They have made a profound difference for me! Thank you ever so much & praying for you on this latest health journey. Know I am cheering you on as you continue on this new journey of being a full time wife & mom. It is never easy to leave the professional field…but it can turn out to be the biggest blessing ever…especially as you have more time to sow seeds into your marriage & your children. You won’t ever regret this decision…and it MAY end up having unbelievable health benefits too! 🙂

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