“AIP Stories of Recovery” is a success story series about regular people from the Autoimmune Protocol community who are changing their lives using the protocol. Each month a new person is featured and readers have the opportunity to discover all the different health challenges that are being overcome by folks just like themselves on the same path. At Autoimmune Paleo we hope you’ll be inspired by, empathize with, and learn from these stories. If you are interested in sharing your story, please email us through the contact form.
Brandi struggled for more than ten years with crippling digestive issues, but she didn’t talk to anyone about her symptoms; she thought they were “normal.” It wasn’t until she discovered she had Crohn’s Disease and three simultaneous infections that she began her healing journey — and realized what “normal” really feels like. With her intuition as her guide, Brandi came to discover that healing was about much more than food. Now, as a trained chef and natural healer, Brandi uses the same approach that got her back to health to help others overcome autoimmunity.
What health issues are you dealing with, when did they begin, and how long did it take to get a diagnosis?
For about ten years, I dealt with chronic digestive dysfunction. Most significantly, I had extreme gas, bloating and diarrhea every day. I can remember having some digestive discomfort throughout college (1998-2002) but assumed it was a byproduct of my less-than-optimal lifestyle.
The symptoms were noticeably bothersome by 2003. They fluctuated between slightly annoying to completely ruling my life.
In retrospect, I also dealt with a lot of inflammation, serious blood sugar imbalances and severe mood swings and irritability, as a result.
However, I never looked for a diagnosis because I recognized my symptoms in my family, and just thought they were “normal.” Ulcerative colitis was present in my immediate family and several family members experienced [what I consider] undiagnosed digestive dysfunction. I never recall a time growing up that my family members did not have gut issues.
In 2011, I became a Natural Chef, and had begun to study nutrition. I felt that I was eating a clean and nutrient dense diet, but was still feeling quite sick and symptomatic. I felt like I was failing as a therapeutic chef if I could not even make myself feel better. It was at that time that I sought the help of a naturopathic doctor. From my first visit, I was told that I had leaky gut, lots of inflammation and needed to change my diet drastically. Approximately six months later, in the spring of 2012, I read on paper that I had Crohn’s disease.
Describe what your lowest point with your health journey was like.
I really feel the most significant disruption of my life happened in the few years before diagnosis. In 2009-11, I lived in Europe and my husband and I did a lot of day travel. Many of those days were ruined because my blood sugar would crash and I would be starving, irritable and inconsolable. I did not know what I needed to feel better and my husband got the brunt of that. I also frequently needed a toilet, which could spoil exploring. In 2011-12, I lived in northern Japan and, though I had begun to change my diet, it was very hard to be strictly gluten free in that country (their soy sauce is sweetened with wheat and most everything is cooked in or with the sauce). Communication was also an issue so I often did not know what I was eating. I was mostly uncomfortable the entire time I lived there. Because of my health, I felt depressed and feared eating out. It made travel and socializing hard, which diminished the experience of living in an amazing country.
What challenges influenced you to look for a solution? Basically, what was the tipping point?
Upon return to the US, in spring of 2012, I found I had contracted H. Pylori, Salmonella and Epstein Barr while living in Japan. That combination was intense. You could call it a tipping point. I was exhausted. I was tired of feeling so bad. I was sad, fearful and felt defeated.
Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It induced a different layer of fear, but also provided some relief to understand why I felt this way.
When you found a protocol to help you heal, what was it and what was your first indication that it was working?
My first doctor suggested a gut repair cleanse. It is very similar to the AIP elimination and included supplementation. I first did that in 2011 and felt a lot of change after 4 weeks. Then, I moved to Japan and the progress unraveled. I came back to it in 2012 when I was diagnosed and, though changes appeared, it was not enough. Still dealing with Epstein Barr, I went to my doctor trying to find more solutions. It was suggested that I remove more foods from my diet, start doing IV supplements and make changes to daily supplements. I left the office overwhelmed and intuitively feeling these solutions were not right. I was not ready to act on them.
That week, I went to see a friend who does energy healing work. I entered her office in tears and I left feeling like a new person. After one session, I was no longer exhausted, I could think more clearly and I felt more confident. In that moment, I knew there was more to this than just food.
That opened up my journey to healing in the pillars that I now call Diet, Detox and Desire:
- Diet: nourishing my body
- Detox: cleansing my life
- Desire: choosing to heal
A combination of these things allowed me to see drastic changes in my body, mind and spirit. I consistently saw reduction in inflammation, I saw balance in my blood sugar and no longer had mood swings. I was able to deal with life in new ways. I was capable of feeling more energetic, more vibrant, more alive.
What resources have you used on your healing journey so far and how did you find them?
My resources all came in divine ways.
When I lived in Illinois for a couple of years, I met a woman that I consider one of my autoimmune mentors. Before I even quite knew what it meant, I knew she healed her autoimmune disease with diet and lifestyle. She is still a close friend and colleague and we constantly share resources, personal and professional.
When I attended chef school, I connected with an instructor who healed and managed her autoimmune disease with diet and lifestyle. She is another autoimmune mentor, and led me to the best doctors I worked with through my healing. I also did my final project in school on an anti-inflammatory diet protocol, because I believe that could help anyone, with any disease. The tangible resources there came to be my foundation for cooking.
My doctors provided insight and healing capacity. I worked with a naturopathic doctor to begin. I learned a lot more about gut healing diets and what was close to the AIP from that interaction. I was then led to a highly intuitive chiropractor/naturopath that did infectious disease work through applied kinesiology and practiced emotional clearing through tapping-like exercises. Her center also had an energy medicine bay that offered healing through laser and light therapy, brain therapy treatments, detoxifying sauna and footbaths and more! The combination of addressing deep gut infections, doing emotional clearings and energy healing was what boosted me to the health I have today.
During that time, I became a nutrition coach and did a lot of self-experimentation. That meant lots of studying on gut health, the microbiome, anti-inflammatory diets and what I now know as the autoimmune protocol. The communities that I found through AIP have also been a great resource and let me understand how much support matters.
So, I have countless books and bookmarked websites and such, but my best resource has always been my own body.
Did your doctors suggest any treatments that you rejected, and if so, why did you choose to try other methods?
I always chose holistic doctors, so I was typically comfortable with what they suggested. However, there were a few times that things did not feel right. One was doing IV supplements. My body tells me very clearly when something is not right for me. That was not right for me at that time.
I always knew food was a primary building block for my health, so I did self study and experimented with what was right for me in this capacity. It was not always what I expected, so I always listened to my inner voice.
Sometimes supplements did not feel right, so I did not take them. Or, I waited until things felt in alignment for me. When my chiropractic/naturopathic healer wanted me to take drugs a couple of times, I did not have to only tell her verbally that I was not ready. Because she used applied kinesiology (muscle testing), my body told her.
The day did come when my body was ready for something more than herbal and energetic treatments, though. I saw a functional medicine doctor in conjunction with my chiropractic/naturopathic healer and they suggested that I do an anti-amoeba and anti-biotic to address SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and some other deep-seeded gut infections. So, I did choose a cleaner, compounded version of these drugs. Though they made me extremely sick during the treatment (a component of the die-off), I believe they helped me to make the final leap through these infections.
I always chose food, lifestyle and emotional healing in conjunction with other treatments. But, after these final compounded treatments, I had blood and fecal labs that came back remarkably well. In spring 2014, just 2 years after diagnosis, I was free of autoimmune markers, free of inflammatory response in my body and my poop had a perfect pH. My doctor loved that. She told me to frame it and put it in my office to confirm what I did for myself. That was the validation I needed to be really confident in my ability to heal.
It can seem like our lives are consumed by a chronic illness, but there is so much beyond those struggles. What brings you true joy right now?
It may sound cliché, but I really am passionate about helping others through this process. Because of my experience and personal healing journey, I have made it my work to help others heal their autoimmune disease. And, because sharing all of the pieces is important to me, my work very much is my life. Not in an over-consuming way, but in a “this-is-how-I-really-do-it” way. I get really excited to talk and write about my discoveries!
I love creating new food, especially in a really modified way. I love to create AIP and Paleo meals and share them. I love when a modified meal tastes so good that no one would even know what’s “missing.”
I love nature. I live in beautiful Colorado, so I try to spend time outdoors as much as possible. Being outside really helps me to connect and redefine what I need in my life, on a day-to-day basis.
I love to travel and explore. Whether it’s perusing a local grocery store, finding a restaurant or outdoor adventure, I like to share how you can live in a healthful and mindful way no matter where you are.
I love to empower and educate others, which I do through my own business and as an instructor at Bauman College in the culinary department. Teaching therapeutic chef students makes me excited about helping shape the future of health care through food.
I love to take photos, so you’ll typically see me share my world of food, nature, travel and healing on Instagram.
Ultimately, I love sharing 🙂 That brings me true joy!
Connect with Brandi on her website, Facebook and Instagram.
Wow, that’s such an uplifting story! I *wish* I had put off getting my GI issues looked at, I got a garbage can diagnosis of IBS when I was younger, and it’s been extremely hard to get any doctors to take me seriously since a couple years ago when I suddenly got way more severe issues. It’s just like what you’re describing – I can’t manage any of the things I used to do like travelling, eating out, etc. I’m so sick all the time. And now also doing a gluten-challenge, since I finally managed to get a new GI doctor and he agreed to do a full workup so I have scopes in October.
It wasn’t totally clear to me, but did you end up taking any mainstream Crohn’s meds, aside from the antibiotics? I’ve heard stories about diet being used to maintain remission or in conjunction with meds, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone improving without meds at all, so really curious about that. Thanks for sharing your story, it really gives me hope that this isn’t going to be my permanent new normal… which I’ve been kind of losing hope over lately!
Ariane, I am so happy that you could take the time to read my story.
To answer your question, I did not take any “mainstream” Crohn’s meds.
I did my healing in non-traditional ways, with food as a foundation.
But, always had the guidance of holistic minded doctors along my journey.
If you have any more questions, feel free to email me at [email protected],
I’d be happy to help. Best of luck on your healing journey,