Navigating health challenges with grace



It’s January, and I’m sitting at my desk typing up a podcast description when all of a sudden my hands go numb.


It was mostly on my left side, but also a little bit on my right. I thought it was just a cramp, so I tried to shake it off, and all of a sudden I was overcome with dizziness. I stood up and called for Nick, who acted a little annoyed until he saw my face and realized I was serious. He started asking me a bunch of questions (which annoyed me back) and we went back and forth about going to the ER- hoping it would go away- until I started feeling numbness going all the way up and down both of my arms. That was it. I needed- even for peace of mind- to get checked out. All of the worst case scenarios swirled in my head. Brain tumor. MS. I had been experiencing occasional bouts of dizziness, usually, I felt, from excess caffeine- but the numbness, combined with the dizziness-- it was terrifying and like nothing I had ever experienced before.


We decided to not jump to conclusions, but we wanted to be safe. I texted my mom to come watch the girls and I made an appointment at the walk in down the street online. They immediately called me back and told me to go to the ER. The ER is, thankfully, only a few miles away and I still felt pretty dizzy in the car, but it started to dissipate a little as we drove, trying not to think of the worst. When we arrived at the ER, they let me in, Nick met my mom with the girls and they brought me into triage where they took my blood pressure (a bit high) and pulse (fairly high for a 30-year-old marathoner at rest) and brought me into a room to wait on the doctor. I joked around with Nick that this wasn’t going to be like Gray’s Anatomy, until a handsome, young doctor pulled the curtain open and I literally had to keep myself from laughing out loud. Well, that made me feel a little better.


He asked me about my symptoms and ordered a blood draw, urine, head CT and EKG.


I snapped a selfie (with my formerly broken phone) while I was waiting. Not exactly how I planned to spend Friday night...

They came in and did the EKG right away- all good. Blood draw (Could you check my vitamin D while you’re at it? No, is the answer, BTW), urine test came back fine. Head CT showed no abnormalities.

Thank God.


Then, what?

Anxiety, he told me. A major panic attack. But… I had panic attacks before- and this was NOTHING like that. There was NO trigger.


There was…


Months and months of family difficulties. Hard decisions. Our lives being turned upside down- and then over again. Things I wasn’t exactly sharing publicly, but were very real behind the scenes.


And also, behind the scenes of my subconscious. My subconscious, on that random Friday night, decided enough was enough- I couldn’t hold it together any longer and panicked.


I knew my anxiety was at an all time high. But I didn’t realize it was bad enough to signal symptoms of something much worse. It was a wake up call, much like the one I had experienced five years ago, when I crashed due to the stress of running my body to the ground post-fitness competition.


Only this time, it was my brain that crashed- and my body followed.


I was sent home, we stopped on the way home for burgers and my husband cracked open a bottle of wine (to not having something more major go on- thank goodness).



The symptoms continued on and off for a week but nothing like that night I went to the ER. I immediately stopped drinking caffeine. I knew it was triggering my anxiety- but I became increasingly aware of how much so. I started taking supplements I knew would help my body come back into balance- I had been there with anxiety before. I started resting more and stressing less. REALLY, truly took the time my body needed. The rest was easier than I thought. The caffeine- difficult, but manageable. I gave up wine (really all alcohol) for a month and a half a little while later. I missed it, but I survived.


And then, a month later, almost to the day of my trip to the ER, the bloat started.


This was not just a little bloat. It started in the evenings, where all of a sudden I would feel this awful puffiness rise in my stomach- I looked like I was five months pregnant. It wasn’t just uncomfortable to look at- it was painful- and it happened seemingly at random. I would use essential oils I’d rub over my belly for little relief, but nothing seemed to bring the bloat down.


Eventually, it started appearing at random times during the day- sometimes lasting for 8+ hours. I noticed it being triggered by gluten (which I haven’t been triggered by in 5+ years), and also dairy if I overdid it.


When it lasted longer than two weeks, I knew it wasn’t a little tummy upset. This was a flare up, of my IBS I have dealt with since I was a little girl, that came to a head almost ten years ago, the last time I was going through a stressful time, having just moved to Toronto to start a new life and a new career with my then-boyfriend (now husband of ten years).



It all started making sense. The anxiety. The bloat.

The other uncomfortable digestive symptoms that were popping back up- even cystic acne that appeared seemingly out of nowhere- my PCOS symptoms are also triggered by stress. My cycle nowhere to be found (yet definitely, certainly, not pregnant).




It was awful. And made SO much sense. The gut-brain connection is strong. But the problem with suffering with IBS for 15+ years, is, when my body becomes inflamed- everything is set off. My gut, my skin, my hormones- it cascades into exactly where I ended up- a puddle of my former self, anxious, in pain. It’s not something that is simply fixed by ‘stop stressing out’. That’s a part of it- but I knew I needed to make shifts to bring my digestive health back into balance.


What was most difficult, this time around, was not knowing what changes to make- though, there was some exploration and trying involved, to find what worked- but the difficulty of living so many years with such FREEDOM with food, that eliminating things and shifting my diet again felt almost torturous. I was angry at my body, honestly.


We’ve done SO much work together!


I already made peace with you and food!

I promised to stop fighting with you, and you promised to stop fighting with me!


How can you betray me like this?


I realized I had been living in a delusion from the past 3+ years of having had food freedom, that it didn’t matter how I ate or how I treated my sensitive body- that my body would be just fine. There are some people who can, quite literally, have FULL freedom with food. Zero allergies, food intolerances, sensitivities, health struggles- food doesn’t affect them, at least on a visceral, physical level, like it does me. Some also choose to turn a blind eye to health struggles. I am not criticizing either scenario or suggestion true food freedom isn’t a thing.


But everyone has a different balance of what works, and what doesn’t- myself included.


I realized that my body has a threshold. It has a tipping point where the drips I had been dripping into my bucket of health filled the bucket- and the bucket overflowed. There was no way to get back to a place of balance without emptying some of the bucket out.


This was EVERY bit as hard as you might imagine it to be.


It was also incredibly revealing that though I had spent the past three years in ‘food freedom bliss’ I was ignoring an important aspect of intuitive eating- my intuition when it came to foods I know are triggers for me.


It was also incredibly revealing that though I had spent the past three years in ‘food freedom bliss’ I was ignoring an important aspect of intuitive eating- my intuition when it came to foods I know are triggers for me.

I had noticed, on occasion, some digestive upset when I would have a second beer at the brewery down the street. Some puffiness when I went a bit hard on the sugar. Some acne when I would over-do the dairy.


None of these things make those foods bad- but the signals my body was sending me were real. They were subtle, at first, and they got louder- until I was forced to stop and listen.


At this point, I had a decision to make. Was I going to accept a life of living in pain and choose ‘food freedom’ as I had been- or find freedom within feeling good? My OWN version of food freedom- one where I am making choices WITH my body in ALIGNMENT with how I want to feel and what my body needs- exactly what I preach and share with my clients- something that, I realized I hadn’t truly been living authentically in every way.


At this point, I had a decision to make. Was I going to accept a life of living in pain and choose ‘food freedom’ as I had been- or find freedom within feeling good? My OWN version of food freedom- one where I am making choices WITH my body in ALIGNMENT with how I want to feel and what my body needs- exactly what I preach and share with my clients- something that, I realized I hadn’t truly been living authentically in every way.

I am still in progress. They say the best way to learn is to teach- I couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to tell others the power in tuning in and give them permission to lean into their body’s needs and want so desperately to be the vision and hope for others of freedom to ignore our own needs.


Much of my fear in making changes came from how it would look to others- not wanting to give the impression that food freedom wasn’t possible because I needed to make shifts and changes for my health.


But the point of food freedom is to have peace and permission with food- to live your best, most beautiful life. Not to simply eat all the things, all the time. But to do what is right for YOUR body within the freedom of doing it without rules. This was not my best, most beautiful life. This felt like my body and I were at war. I wanted to get on the same side again. I needed to get on her side again.


But the point of food freedom is to have peace and permission with food- to live your best, most beautiful life. Not to simply eat all the things, all the time. But to do what is right for YOUR body within the freedom of doing it without rules.

And I have gotten comments. Many supportive, some nasty. There are people out there who believe there are no foods you can eat or changes you make that would change the state of your gut health, your mental health- whatever it might be. I do believe health changes must be holistic- food in and of itself won’t heal all your ailments. There is a time and a place for medical interventions. But food is and can be a POWERFUL tool for healing- I’ve seen it in my own life, again and again.


And I want to hold that space for other women. The space for freedom within limitations. Freedom in light of health struggles. Freedom to HEAL. Freedom to live your BEST life. Freedom to explore, to shift and change as your body asks- without hesitation or wondering what anyone else things. Freedom to be on your body’s side, again- and no one else’s.


I want to hold that space for other women. The space for freedom within limitations. Freedom in light of health struggles. Freedom to HEAL. Freedom to live your BEST life. Freedom to explore, to shift and change as your body asks- without hesitation or wondering what anyone else things. Freedom to be on your body’s side, again- and no one else’s.

I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me throughout this time, in hopes they will also provide you with some encouragement. I will be sharing some digestive support posts in the near future, but I want to start with the mindset side of things, first, which I believe is paramount to healing.


Some of the things that helped me:


  1. Working with my coach. I’ve been working with my coach for over a year now on everything from mindset, to business, life systems and everything in between. Sharing my struggles with her and developing a new mindset around eating in a way that was supportive to my health was huge. She suggested I consider looking at food in a new way- I eat what feels good, instead of ‘I don’t eat these foods’. Focusing on the YES list of foods that made me feel awesome makes SO much sense when it’s so easy to focus on the foods that don’t work (knowing this does often change over time!)

  2. Experimenting, allowing for curiosity. Just because it worked before, doesn’t mean it will work now. Just because it works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for me- but there is no harm in trying. Taking a mindset of curiosity and experimentation has been huge in trying new approaches from a place of interest instead of a place of perfection.

  3. Trusting in the process and patience. In all of this, it takes time for things to work. For the body to respond. It can take weeks, months to see positive response from changes and this can be hard. Often times it requires a LOT of patience and trust to see success and maintaining a positive mindset has been essential to allowing my body to do the work needed to get back into balance, simply by supporting her and staying the course.

  4. Flexibility. Letting go of what doesn’t work and trying new things when needed- and adding things back in when they feel right.

  5. Grace. SO much grace. In all of this, giving myself grace on the hard days- when food simply didn’t work for my body, not being hard on myself- has been by far the hardest and most important approach to all of this. The goal isn’t perfection- our bodies are ever changing so perfection is inherently impossible- it’s working WITH our bodies to live our healthiest, happiest lives. And that, friends, is freedom.


As for where I’m at today, there are good days and bad days. I still have bloated days. I have many more good days. I’m still struggling with finding a balance between allowing some foods back in and what my limits are. And I let my body tell me, I listen to her and give her compassion- and through this, I’m in a much, much better place- physically and mentally. Through compassion, grace, curiosity and openness I am once again on my body’s side, she and I, working together, for health, happiness, and wholeness.


Questions? Need encouragement? Please don't hesitate to reach out via email or Instagram.




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© 2020 Kristin Rugg Dovbniak for Healthy Mama Kris. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use

Headshots Marie Guagliardo Photography & Sarah Zollo Portraits