Well, friends, let’s get right to it: we’ve changed!
Our health has had an overhaul in the last seven months, with results that have surprised us. Granted, none of this change came by accident. For years, especially last year, we experienced difficult health symptoms that resounded through our lives like clanging alarm bells. Little by little, we changed how we live. We are in this for the long game—for the big picture of what matters most. Results came from old-fashioned hard work, researched-backed science, and focusing on the big picture. In this series, we will share what we’ve learned: what worked, what didn’t, and what we would change if we did it all over again. Welcome!
We hope y’all came hungry—this first introduction post is a meaty one! The rest of the series will be shorter, with actionable steps and our top takeaways for you to try. If you scroll past this first part, looking for links to what supplements we took or those tips before reading our story, that’s okay. You may miss the reason why what we’ve done has worked, though. Our history influences our healing and can give you valuable insight to inform your steps forward. Our bodies and stories are unique, and looking at the whole system under the hood is essential, not just the flashing red lights on the dash. We want you to land on those links with conviction and confidence instead of trying something that might not be right for you. Sound good? Great! We’re glad you’re here! Affiliate links are used in this post – enjoy!
Who This Series is For:
Lara: You might have clicked over to this post because you want your health and fitness to improve, but you can’t get motivated. Or, like us, you’ve experienced chronic pain or health challenges. Perhaps, also like us, you’ve reached a certain age, and your body has…um… over-reached beyond your age? You feel like some things are falling apart. Perhaps you don’t know where to start; you just know, deep inside, that something needs to change.
Ari: We had those questions and fears: What if it’s too late to heal our bodies after all this damage? What if we do all this work and nothing happens? What if we waste money or time? What are the right changes to make exactly? We didn’t know where to start and felt very behind.
The Journey of Change:
Lara: You’ll learn that Ari and I do many different things. His nutrition, for instance, is vastly different than mine because we know now what his body prefers for fuel. We take unique supplements and have different genetic makeups, blood panel results, and individual goals.
Ari: But, you’ll also learn the core truths of health that work for both of us—and likely you as well. While there are no one-size-fits-all programs, there are things that Lara and I have found beneficial for most humans.
Lara: The most significant thing we’ve learned is that true health is about living for something bigger than anything we see or feel. It’s not about getting the youth back that we had in our 20s, fixing all of our ailments, or finding the perfect nutrition plan or supplement. Our physical health is of some value, but our emotional and spiritual health are all interconnected. Emotional pain affects our bodies. Everything is connected, and my body was trying to tell me things for so long. This year, the best thing that happened was I learned to listen. I processed loss, fear, failure, and what I held as my identity and found a greater understanding of holistic wellness.
Who We Are:
Ari: First, a little about us. We met at the gym 18 years ago when I was training to be a flight surgeon with the Navy. Lara was a personal trainer, and I asked her for workout advice and a date.
Lara: Fast forward a few years, and three kids later, Ari is a men’s health doctor and legitimate professional rapper. This is not a drill, friends—medical companies ask him to share his expertise and… to rap. 🙂
Ari: That’s right, I shrink prostates and bust rhymes. Anyway, Lara has owned her own business for as long as I have known her: wedding planning, wedding magazine, and goal-setting planners. Within this last year, she stepped away from being a business owner. It was a big year of grieving the loss of her dad and transitioning into a new life.
Lara: While Ari is a physician, this series is not medical advice but rather meant to be educational. Talk to a knowledgeable doctor and research before making changes or adding supplements. We are not functional medicine, nutrition, or exercise science experts.
Ari: We are, however, reasonably intelligent people motivated to research on our own to discover solutions that work. We’ve seen some fantastic results, many of which we’ve tracked, but we didn’t evaluate each change we made with a scientific method–i.e., isolating each to assess its impact one at a time. We made many changes at once and, therefore, don’t know the exact measured effect of each one. We know certain habits and tools worked more than others, though, and the sum of all the changes. We are in a much better place than before. We’ll do our best to share what helped accurately with the data we have to quantify its effect. We hope this series encourages you to try new things and leave your comfort zone with your health and wellness.
Our Health Challenges:
Lara: I’m turning 44 this year, and Ari will be 46. At the start of this year, Ari was on blood pressure medication and in year twenty of taking a PPI (proton pump inhibitor). He was a tired dad and would crash while reading to the kids at bedtime. In the wee hours of the night, his mind would turn on, and he would stay up for hours on his phone. He also snored when he was asleep, which sounds benign, but it was another alarm bell for his health. There were notable swings of anger and withdrawal, pointing to a root cause we’d later discover that had a relatively simple solution—stay tuned for the rest of the series. There’s no way for us to fit our entire health history into one blog post. There were a lot of factors, and we’ve included what we thought would be most helpful here – we’ll unpack more along the way.
Ari: My turning point was a period of sharp headaches when lifting weights last year. After several tests and prayers, we discovered I was getting headaches from high blood pressure, making it difficult to work out—and exercise was supposed to help lower my blood pressure! The result was to reduce my salt intake and start a low dose of lisinopril. I was frustrated (man, did I feel old). Medication is a helpful and necessary tool for many (I prescribe it daily) and isn’t the only way to affect change. There had to be a better way. There was, and it didn’t take long.
Lara: I experienced many years of chronic joint pain, inflammation, IBS, anemia, hormone swings, night sweats, heart palpitations, acid reflux, and fatigue. I had labs done that were puzzling and difficult to make sense of. My doctor told us something was going on with my immune system, and we’d have to “wait and see.”
Ari: Sleep and daily living grew more and more challenging. Lara woke up through the night with neck, hip, knee, and shoulder pain. The doctor prescribed daily NSAIDs and PPIs, which she was on for 12 years. She would text me after each doctor’s visit in resigned frustration: no one knew what was causing all of this. They offered medication, but no answers. Lara knew all of this must be connected somehow.
Lara: The scary thing was losing feeling in my left arm, fingers, and leg over the last few years. There were several trips to the ER. They said it was happening from degenerative disc disease in my neck. If you’ve followed my journey here, you know there were years I couldn’t pick up my kids, open doors, cut things in the kitchen, or drive without pain and numbness. We were considering a major neck surgery to fuse my discs. But how would I care for my kids or employees to be able to have a major surgery like this? We didn’t have family nearby to help, and the surgeon told us he highly recommended I move forward with the surgery even though it “might make things worse.” Woosh! We prayed every night, throughout the day, on the phone, with friends, and over me when I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning from pain in my joints.
Ari: We had little energy left for our three children, one with Autism and high needs, and our full-time jobs.
Surrendering the Stress:
Lara: I began to lose handfuls of hair early last year and asked a close friend in the hair industry what he thought. His advice was tender and unexpected: “Slow down, reduce stress – whatever it takes.” The things I enjoyed to reduce stress kept slipping away – gardening, hiking, walking, and playing with my kids. I had tried the doctor’s recommendations: anti-inflammatory diets, creams, oils, two steroid injections in my neck, and physical therapy for years with little improvement. The physical therapy I was doing seemed to make it worse. I stopped going. There was a long period when I gave up hope that anything could change.
I didn’t know it then, but God would soon teach me that we are more than our physical bodies. He didn’t just want to heal my neck; He wanted to heal my soul. Our thoughts, emotions, and experiences shape our character and our actions. Pain changes the makeup of our cells and lodges itself into the fibers of our being if we don’t process it—like a foreign object tossed into moving cogwheels. When it gets backed up, and stress remains stuck, we feel it. When we bring it into the light, though, pain becomes a pathway.
More than one person ever-so-gently suggested that all my stress was carried in my neck. I didn’t like that concept – it felt abstract. But they were right. Stress was stuck in my body. My nervous system was on overdrive trying to fight it. I was doing my best to parent, homeschool, and love my family amidst grief and loss. There were times I was grateful to have done what God asked me to do in stepping into a new season, and times I felt like a failure. There were times when the trauma of watching my dad die felt insurmountable and times when it led me to the reality of eternity. There were times I felt thankful for this new life and times I felt forgotten and, frankly, just awful at it. Yet, little by little, day by day, I’d try to wake up each day with gratitude for the gift of the breath in my lungs. I have such tenderness for the Lara of those days. God had allowed me to grow good things, but some needed extra care in this new season, and some needed to be pruned and pulled out. I had to learn to process emotional pain as an essential part of experiencing holistic healing.
This last year was about coming undone to come alive.
Ari: This journey hasn’t just been about our bodies but our faith at the center. God wanted us fit together (see what I did there?). We know now that there’s a balance needed for real health: do your best each day and know you are not in control.
Lara: No matter our good efforts, our health could fall apart tomorrow, but God won’t. While neck pain no longer rules my life, praise the Lord (the story is still crazy to me, and I’ll tell you more in a minute), there are things in our bodies that will never heal this side of Heaven, and we are pretty okay with that. A lot of this journey has been embracing aging, eternity, and our limits. It’s not all bad, believe it or not! We’re learning to slow down and see hard things as part of the path forward instead of feeling like we have to stuff them away. And those pain-filled years weren’t fruitless. When I couldn’t get out in the garden like I wanted to, I learned to give my kids one penny per pulled weed. Highly recommend.
Misconception of Being “Healthy”:
Ari: We were blessed in many ways—who were we to complain about anything—yet, in these last few years, we were too worn out to steward those blessings well. Something had to give. Ironically, we considered ourselves “healthy people.” We ate mostly local and organic foods, took traditional multivitamins, and exercised a few times a week when we could. Lara’s father’s health began to decline rapidly last year, giving us a renewed perspective on the finite nature of life. We realized that we needed to make a radical change for ourselves and everyone who depended on us. God was asking us to steward what He gave us, including our health, in new ways.
Lara: We were deep into special needs parenting and needed more resilience to help her and our whole family. We only get this one life, and we were tired of being tired.
Ari: A big part of our lifestyle changes were motivated by our youngest, who has Autism. She was experiencing some violent episodes at home and school. We had tried traditional therapies for her over the years, with similar results to our own health journey: little change. Then, Lara read a book that sent both of us researching gut health and something new to us: functional medicine. The main idea is that disorders in the body can be helped by identifying the root cause and adjusting a variety of factors, including lifestyle and diet, appropriately. This contradicts the traditional approach of prescribing medications that blunt symptoms without addressing the root cause.
Lara: We wanted to dive in and try a few things for the whole family, but we prioritized Sarah’s health first. We found a functional medicine practitioner near us and implemented her recommendations. An organic acid test revealed what we expected: Sarah’s gut was a mess, affecting her ability to thrive. Her practitioner recommended several supplements and gave us the steps below. These steps were quite a process, but we were willing to try anything. We had read the research and knew this would be an investment in her lifelong health.
—Clean your water
—Clean your air
—Get a Squatty Potty
—Optimize her diet for healing
—Remove sleep barriers
—Remove toxins from the house
—Make healthy sleep routines happen
—Help her process her emotions – everything is connected
Ari: There’s a lot to each of these steps, which we’ll cover in the posts ahead. Some recommendations were just weird–squatty potty??–but we went with it. Within a short time, Sarah was sleeping better, reading more than a sentence at a time (before, she couldn’t sit still to focus on a book), and she seemed less anxious. We had a long way to go with her health, but it motivated our efforts to address our own issues with a functional medicine approach.
Lara: It’s worth stopping here to tell you one of the reasons we’re taking the time to write this series. Much of 1-1 functional medicine is cost-prohibitive for most of the population. It’s largely not covered by insurance, and labs can be expensive.
Ari: Several companies are working to make testing accessible, but it’s still hard to interpret test results without an experienced provider. We can’t solve all these problems ourselves, but we hope to pass along what we’re learning to help.
Lara: And we’re also here to tell you that money can’t do a workout for you – or breathe for you when you experience stress. You can implement many zero and low-cost things (we’ll suggest ideas!), and creativity goes a long way. When you’re determined, you can do a lot. I worked out in our living room for most of this year with just a few free weights and bands. You know one of your neighbors has a few free weights lying around that they do not have any intention to use—free them of those! We’ve made the most of podcasts, PubMed.com, and our library card. I can’t wait to learn from your ideas, too.
Ari: Don’t let anyone tell you a couple of shoe boxes won’t make a pretty good Squatty Potty! There are some things that we will talk about that were 100% worth it, and other things that were totally not worth it — we will warn you about these.
Lara: The purchases we did make, we took advantage of other people’s affiliate discount codes and links. I became an affiliate for a small handful of health companies myself for this reason. After buying their products and finding success with them, I want to recommend what’s worked for us, but not without getting a discount for you (and me!). I also appreciate getting access to inside research, and it’s a way for me to help small businesses I believe in. We earn a commission when you purchase using our discount links, which is no extra cost to you—it comes from the company. If we share a product, it means we bought it and used it for a good chunk of time before reaching out to be a part of what they’re doing. We hope the inside info and discounts are helpful to you if you choose to use them.
Ari: When we started this, we didn’t know anyone who was doing these types of things. So, we just had to jump in and try things based on our own research. I kind of wish we had a blog like this to refer to—and that’s why we are motivated to write this.
Rediscovering Health through Functional Medicine:
Lara: Okay, back to the start of 2023. We took in the latest evidence-based insights like a firehose, reading and listening to enough research to fill a Doctorate program over these months. Ari used his research expertise and spent hours pouring through medical papers while I dove off the diving board into Huberman and others, hunting for facts in all the fiction.
Ari: Although Functional Medicine was not part of my training at Med School, I was ready to try a different approach. There were a lot of intelligent voices describing the data that supported these principles. I had been on chronic medication for most of my adult life, and I wasn’t ready to accept that this was how it would be forever.
Lara: After all those years of suffering from neck pain, I sought a second opinion. I’ll never forget her words as she looked at my scans and history: “I don’t think this pain is coming from your neck.”
As I listened to her, God was doing what I thought was impossible. We prayed for six years for Him to heal my neck, and in an unexpected way, He did. She said the pain was likely from a trap/shoulder imbalance and asked me if I had ever heard of Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a connective tissue disorder that affects collagen and causes unstable joints.
I had not heard of it and soon discovered I’d been living with it all my life. Discs in my neck may be misaligned forever, but that wasn’t the root cause of my pain. All this time, I was treated traditionally for a neck injury, causing undue treatment, physical therapy on the wrong body part, steroid injections, MRIs, medications, and a possible disc fusion surgery. I could have been angry for all of those lost years, but I was too busy trying not to ugly cry for what I’d just gained. Suddenly, so many things made sense in my life, and it didn’t matter how long it took to heal my joints. This was all connected, and I was listening. A thrill of hope.
With a new holistic plan, I’m standing here a few months later with my chronic neck pain 95% alleviated. It has been challenging and tedious work, and I’ll have this for the rest of my life, but I now know the cause and have a new perspective on wellness. In this, I’ve learned my true and healthy limits, which are freeing! For instance, I always felt like I “should“ run or do traditional HIIT or sprint at some point during my cardio workouts. Now I know God didn’t build me for that. Good for someone else, not for me! I now enjoy walking every day more than I used to. That’s what I do for cardio now: I walk, and my whole system is happier. I know how stress affects my joints and how unresolved emotions suppress my immune system: I have felt it anecdotally and seen it in my white cell count on labs and other markers. This is not an abstract concept; it’s real. I have a lifetime ahead of stabilizing my joints, and I’m here for it.
Ari: This is a long-term journey, and there are many health conundrums we’re working through like leaky gut, heavy metal toxicity for Lara, and more. There are always things in progress, but we’ve also learned that you can’t get hung up on seeking perfect health. There are some things we’ve had to just let go of. With all we’re learning, we’re taking it one day at a time—and thankful for what we have right now.
The Series Ahead:
Lara: It can be overwhelming to know where to start, especially once you dip your toe into the functional medicine pool. That’s why we’re breaking this series into several parts, so you have time to digest each and try a few things at a time. We’ll also take our time writing it, so feel free to sign up to get posts by email so you don’t miss anything. Today, we’ve taken a deep dive into why we changed, and up next:
— Where to start: removing barriers and staying motivated for the long term.
— Life-changing habits: the small daily things we do that add up.
— The 1 thing that will change your health quickly. (We don’t do shortcuts, but this is as close to one as you can get—it deserves a post all its own.)
— What we do for exercise and recovery.
— What we eat—and all about the experiment we did one weekend.
— How we optimize: supplements and seasons. (Some supplements we may benefit from long-term, and some are helpful for a short time.)
— A progress update and what’s next!
Lara: After a hearty introduction, we hope you feel nourished for good things ahead! Let’s summarize some of our progress from the last seven months of little by little steps. We had zero aesthetic aspirations in our health goals, but our bodies did change, which surprised us. We feel vulnerable sharing these photos, but now you know they are about more than what’s on the surface. Now you know these photos have a story to tell.
Ari: On the left: You know what I was experiencing back then. I was tired. My motivations were to not let the aging process passively happen to me. I wanted to do whatever I could do to be healthier so that I could have not necessarily a longer life but a longer, highly functional life. More years to be active with Lara and the kids (and grandkids). And I wanted to have a joint hobby with Lara. We were spending a lot of time and energy parenting and making life work, and it seemed like it had been a while since we had a joint topic of interest outside of work and kids to discuss. Our gut health was destroyed by PPIs (and NSAIDs for Lara). Gut health is the root cause of many of our health symptoms. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I realized how severely my absorption of other nutrients was affected by the lower acid levels in my stomach.
On the right: A few weeks into this, I was able to stop taking my Prilosec and was no longer experiencing heartburn. We learned our genetic methylation cycles and that the traditional multivitamins and fortified foods we consumed for so long were doing more harm than good. Our genetic variations – COMT and MTHFR for me – gave us data on how to fuel our bodies. I also stopped my lisinopril, and my blood pressure came down to a normal level. I’ve experienced a lot less anxiety as well as less frequent depressive episodes. I have increased energy and sleep better through the night. An unexpected side effect of all this: I gained muscle and lost body fat. I got a six-pack for the first time in my life (man, I wish I knew about this when I was 20…). And… I have a lot more to talk about with my wife!
Lara: On the left: I was living in chronic pain, with lots of makeup to cover up the bags under my eyes. I had no desire to change the way I looked, but on the inside, I was in emotional, spiritual, and physical distress. Most nights I didn’t want to go to bed because I knew I’d be up all night in pain. I was anemic, inflamed, experiencing anxiety, and didn’t know the chronic medication I took, along with other factors, compromised my whole system. Our bodies were suffering unable to get the nutrients we needed from food to heal. I was tired of being tired. When I started strength training in January, I could lift 3-pound weights with my arms and couldn’t do any weight on my legs. Just body weight for the first few weeks. I was terrified I’d hurt myself, which I often did with my joints.
Then, little by little by little by little…
On the right: Fast forward: this photo on the right was taken after a recent training session. I used 40-pound dumbbells for lunges (my legs could do more, but I’m limited by what my hands can hold at this point), squatted 100 pounds with a bar set securely on stabilized traps, curled 20-pound dumbbells, and did dips with zero shoulder pain. It has taken all these months of tedious work to strengthen my joints to lift weights at all. My strength has skyrocketed. I’m still working to heal a labral tear in my left hip, high hamstring tendinosis, and I have a hernia surgery coming up – all from that root cause of my connective tissue being loosey-goosey – but this new journey is a gift. I’m eating twice (!) as much as I was on the left – more in the post about what we eat. We’ve both learned that the food we eat today is not the same as the food our ancestors enjoyed. Farming practices and our soil have drastically changed, necessitating we adapt as well. We have learned about the harmful effects of glyphosate, the benefits of regenerative farming, and we’ve learned to grow some pretty great carrots and popcorn in our garden! This has been a lot of fun to do with Ari and has given us something to encourage each other in each day. Thanks to training, different physical therapy, cleaning up the toxins in our house, better whole food nutrition, the right supplements for my specific needs, rest and gaining resilience for stress, and a whole lot of God’s grace, I am sleeping through the night with little to no joint pain. This has been miraculous for me. I also just completed a hike I’ve always wanted to do but never had the confidence that my body could make it before. I was thankful to do it in honor of my dad. Functional medicine has helped me learn my limits and to thrive within them.
Ari: We both learned that muscle matters. Lifting weights is one of the single best things you can do for your health. But, we’ve also learned it needs to be combined with other factors to be beneficial.
Lara: Our kids are really into this, too. When I asked Ari about his top health tips for this series, they immediately responded with their thoughts. Their enthusiasm impressed me—they have been paying attention:
“Sleep!” – Gracie
“Attitude!” – Josh
“Focus, yeah, focus is a big one.” – Gracie
“Lots of food!” – Sarah
“And sleep, don’t forget sleep!” – Gracie.
We’ve all learned, once again, that little-by-little steps really do add up.
Ari: We’ve had a lot of fun doing this together, encouraging one another when we want to give up, and recently, we’ve all had fun making funny videos.
Lara: Change often happens when we’re willing to be wrong, teachable, and walk right into a paradigm shift because there’s no way we’re going back.
Ari: We’ve walked into that shift, and we’re just getting started.
Lara: I can’t imagine what’s possible in 7 more months—or a year or two years, Lord willing. The possibilities are energizing.
YOUR TURN! We hope something in this post or our story encouraged you. What’s on your mind with your own health journey? What are you learning? What’s been holding you back lately? We’d love to hear!
As promised, here are a couple of time-sensitive sales and discount codes that we hope are helpful for you if you use them. We’ll share more about why we love some of these in future posts, but these sales will end before then, so I wanted to share these with you now.
First, our air purifier is on major sale right now! This is the same discount I took advantage of to get our first AirDoctor—and I know from being an affiliate now that this is the best sale for a while. Over 50% off most units. This sale-on-sale is available only through these links (you won’t see it on the regular website) and runs through September 27th. Scroll down, and you’ll see the single units for sale. No code needed – just click my link here to activate the discount.
Buy AD3000 and receive $300 off
MSRP $629 – Holiday Sale-on-Sale Price: $329 [Total Savings: $300] — This is my pick if you want one for a bedroom or living room. We have this in our bedroom.
We love our water purifier from their sister company – an daily essential at our house:
Buy AquaTru Classic and receive $125 off
MSRP $449 – Pre-Holiday Price: $324 – This is what we have.
Buy AquaTru Under the Sink and receive $100 off
MSRP: $349 – Pre-Holiday Price: $249 – This is on my wishlist for our kitchen.