Health is a Journey – Don’t Give Up!

Author: Audrey Fleck - MS, RDN, LDN Publish Date: March 22, 2019

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My mission is to awaken you to the idea that food is your best medicine.

I would like to share with you a little glimpse into my story so that you can see why I am so passionate about nutrition and functional medicine.

It is personal, but I know I am not the only woman to feel how I used to feel. In fact, many of the women I work with and even the ones I know personally, have similar struggles. Because I was able to put the puzzle pieces together and find a natural solution for myself, it is one of my life’s missions to help you do the same.

As far back as my teenage years, I can remember struggling emotionally. I was a happy person with ambitions, but I would cycle into feeling unhappy and depressed. The older I got and the more that I learned to listen to my body, I realized it was hormonal.

Instead of having Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)  a few days before a period, I would experience it two weeks leading up into a period. I called it the “black hole”.  I would settle into a feeling of “blah” and lose the drive to get work done, clean, and socialize.  I would also become moody and sensitive to things that I normally wouldn’t react to.  It was really leaving a negative impact on my life and relationships.  I used to really treasure the days of feeling great because I knew feeling not like myself again was going to be just around the corner again.

College years: Western medicine frustrated me because my problem was labeled with a diagnosis of PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, which is basically a more severe, sometimes debilitating, and extended form of PMS. The only solution my gynecologist offered me was birth control. I didn’t know of any other alternatives (not yet studying functional medicine), so I gave birth control a try.  It only made me feel worse. Birth control was just a band aid and not resolving anything. I discontinued taking it and how I felt just continued on.

After college: While I was completing my masters in nutrition and functional medicine, I started to get some answers while taking a class on hormones (a topic not included in the formal training of a dietitian).  I decided to use some functional medicine tests I was learning about to see if it would shed any light on my issues.  After completing a salivary cortisol test and collecting my female hormones over the course of my menstrual cycle, I soon learned that my adrenal glands were overworking, my estrogen levels were too high, and my progesterone levels too low. I began connecting the dots.

My adrenals, glands responsible for producing cortisol as a response to stress, were in overdrive.  At the time I was super busy working a full time job at a hospital, a per diem consulting job, and completing a master’s degree. I started to come to the realization that I was not a super woman and my body was pushed towards a state of imbalance. My estrogen and progesterone levels were likely  impacted secondarily to my adrenals.

After “figuring” out why I was feeling like this, I ultimately wanted to resolve a long history of feeling up and down so I created a plan.

First, I began talk therapy to really uncover if this was truly hormonal or if it was really depression since it runs in my family. After a few sessions, my therapist thought hormones were to blame and recommended that I talk to my gynecologist about a low dose antidepressant to be taken during certain times of my cycle.  Again, Western Medicine let me down again.  I actually felt crushed… here I was talking to a therapist looking for insight and help and was left with a pill as the answer to my problem. How could an antidepressant be the solution to my hormonal problems? I thought therapists were supposed to help me work through how I was feeling instead of offering me drugs? I wasn’t satisfied with her plan.  If my hormones were imbalanced, then the solution that made most sense to me would be to balance them. Side note- Dr. Kelly Brogan’s book, A Mind of Your Own, was not written at that time, but I later discovered it, which validated my decision to not use antidepressants. I highly recommend her book to anyone considering antidepressants.

The next step I took was finding an open minded doctor who was familiar with functional and integrative medicine.  I already received eye rolls from my gynecologist when I brought in the functional lab work I had run on myself.  Unfortunately my experience with many traditionally trained docs is that if they aren’t familiar with certain tests or if they are not a part of the standard of care, they won’t even consider using it to help me.  I luckily found a great doctor who was familiar to the functional medicine approach who really helped support my healing (I definitely believe in finding someone to help with healing rather than trying to heal thyself with what you know).

Over the course of a year, I focused on making some dietary changes and taking some special supplements for my issues.  I worked more on stress management and even took a job off my plate.  I also began acupuncture and found it to be extremely helpful – I still go after 3 years just to check in and to “tweak” myself.  All of these things helped put me on my road to feeling like the real me should. I finally started to find the balance I longed for after years of ups and downs.

Fast forward three years later.  Presently, I am at a different phase in my life. I am 5 months postpartum.  I feel pretty balanced mentally and emotionally, but I can bet you I am experiencing some hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) dysregulation again as a result of no sleep and the added stress of figuring out life with an infant.

I always tell my clients that health is a journey and not a destination.  Life is never constantly the same. I achieved a health state that I yearned for, but the journey is taking care of myself as best as I can at every phase of life. I want my clients to know that you can really feel better. Look beyond medicine and bring people into your circle that will help you get better from different angles.  When you get to your health goals, you must be prepared to maintain changes that got you there.  Lastly, you will never be the same person you were last week, last month, or last year. If an injury, stressful or traumatic life event, or just fun (think too many fun foods and beverages) caused your health to derail, it’s okay and that is a part of life. Come back to your circle of supporters and keep working on yourself.

I am excited to share with you my health journey now as a new mom and hope to inspire you to not give up on your health journey.

About the Author

Audrey Fleck - MS, RDN, LDN

I’m Audrey Fleck, a dedicated dietitian with over a decade of experience, and the founder of Functional Origins, my private practice located in Bucks County, PA. With a strong educational background, including a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics and an MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, I specialize in providing an integrative and functional approach to healing, primarily tailored for women.