My hormones have
never been easy on me.
Having battled Graves’, Hashimoto’s, adrenal fatigue, estrogen dominance and years of digestive issues, I do what I do because I’ve come on the other end. Let me show you how so it inspires you to take care of your health and hormones, too.
Here is the short story.
I am a published author with Harper Collin (book called Cooking for Hormone Balance), a certified health coach, chef, endocrine specialist and certified herbalist. Before getting to the health arena, I had a long, fast-paced career as a strategic planner for the advertising powerhouse called WPP in both Asia and the US, working on Fortune 100 brands. I am also a regular Vipassana (insightful) meditation practitioner and a Level II Reiki healer (a form of energy healing). I’m also the founder of Wellena, a clean supplement and skincare line.
Will this journey ever end?
My own journey with health issues and the failure of the medical world to adequately address them started with…
Graves’ Disease (an autoimmune condition that causes hyperthyroidism)
Hashimoto’s Disease (an autoimmune condition that causes hypothyroidism) and adrenal fatigue stage 2
I was diagnosed with estrogen dominance and high heavy metal toxicity
I developed mysterious digestive issues which got diagnosed as SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), a serious bacterial infection. During this time, while working on my cookbook, I discovered that I was highly sensitive to oxalates (compounds found in many wonderfully nutritious foods such as cacao, nuts, seeds, grains and many vegetables).
At age 44, I lost a battle to save my hips originating from congenital hip displacement and had a simultaneous bilateral hip replacement. It was a life-changing surgery that allowed me to live pain free again. Later that year, we launched our herbal program and my cookbook, Cooking for Hormone Balance.
Fully recovered from surgery and well on the mend. This year was busy creating a line of supplements which we later rebranded to Wellena.
Highlight of the year was a purchase of a mountain house just outside of Boulder, Colorado and getting my dogs; Charlie and Nella My health has been steadily improving and has been best in over a decade.
This year is off to a tough start but I’m doing my best to see the silver lining in this new way of doing life! We rebranded our supplements to Wellena and are getting ready to launch a new book – Overcoming Estrogen Dominance.
As you can see, my own body keeps me on my toes. I’ve surrendered to the fact that my health is a journey I will always be on and there might be no simple end to it. Instead of living life from a place of “when I get better, I will do/be (…),” I’ve trained myself to live full-out, now. Not later. Now.
Every part of my journey made me wiser, kinder and more patient.
Today I’m in remission from Graves’ and Hashimoto’s, my adrenals feel rested and I have managed to reverse my estrogen dominance (see lab work below). I feel better today as a 45-year-old woman than I did in my twenties.
As part of this exciting, often frustrating and self-discovering journey, I founded Thyroid Diet Coach, a highly successful nutrition practice helping women with thyroid conditions to heal and thrive. Hormones Balance is the expansion of this practice.
Every part of my healing journey had elements of significant dietary and lifestyle changes. I now believe in good, clean food and no restricted dieting.
What made a difference?
The rue needle movers was the restoration of the digestive system, balance of the sugar levels, liver detoxification and emotional wellbeing, like self-love. I put my trust in the healing powers of real food, sleep, and emotional healing.
If you came to this website, you are probably seeking help with food and sound lifestyle changes to help you reclaim your hormonal balance. I’m glad you did. My practice is driven by my passion to give you hope, knowledge, and direction to self-heal so you get your energy, weight, hair, joy and optimism where you always wanted them to be.
One of the first things I will offer right off the bat is for you to check out the free, exclusive, 8-day viewing of the Cooking for Balance lectures – most of the things that helped me (and thousands of other women) are packed into this program.
Here is the full story
Reflecting on memory lane
Like most people, my journey with food and health started with a personal crisis. But first, let me provide a little context by giving you a bit of a backstory.
It started from the day I was born – I was not a breastfed baby. It was the early 1970s when the powdered milk companies bought the health industry and powdered milk was declared “richer in nutrients” than mother’s milk. From a very early age, I struggled with eczema and chronic ear infections.
On the contrary, my sister, as a breastfed baby, had no such issues.
Age 13 and already showing signs of thyroid and digestive issues – thin hair, feeling cold and always bloated. This was taken at a British high school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Wearing a thick sweatshirt in a tropical country – a sign of low thyroid function.
“Ripped” and seemingly healthy – yet, I felt anything but. This photo was taken at a holiday in Spain after quitting my job in China because I felt so sick. May 2009.
Going into my teenage years, I then battled with cystic acne, yeast infection, ear infections, PMS, breast cysts, irregular periods and chronic migraines. By the age of 28, I had pretty much tried every cream, antibiotic, Chinese herbs, Western herb, and bogus diet. My face became scarred, dry and tired and ha, even more, acne – on my back, arms and chest – and only deeper under the skin, my painful emotional scarring. I was reluctant to date boys, owned no open-back tops or dresses and was reluctant to wear a bikini.
By our medical standards, I was a “healthy person.” I excelled in sports and I was academically strong and curious. It’s probably the sense of curiosity and the inner voice that pushed me to ask the so seemingly simple yet rare question: “Why is this happening to me?” I’m 28, I eat well, and yet I feel like a wreck.
A simple internet search pointed me in the direction of food. I started discovering the connection between food and many medical conditions that at first puzzled me and later consumed me with fascination. A simple blood test and an elimination diet showed I had a severe food sensitivity to gluten, dairy, and eggs. This was my first introduction to the works of the immune system and the gut. By cutting out gluten, dairy and eggs from my diet, the inflammation of my body subsided so much so that my acne cleared up, my migraines were gone and my periods showed up precisely every 28 days.
Early autoimmunity and
signs of estrogen dominance
I became what I thought was a “conscious and healthy eater.” Crusading for making the connection between food and health became part of my social DNA, to the delight of some friends and the dismay of others.
This time, to my disbelief, I was found to have hyperthyroidism. It was Graves’ disease, so I was put on medication, taken off it after six months and declared “cured.”
Interestingly, about that time I realized I had a severe reaction to birth control pills – something I now know is a clear indication of a fragile hormonal balance and most likely early signs of estrogen dominance.
Being a Type A personality, my advertising career took off at a lighting speed. I became very good in digital strategic planning and was the go-to person in the industry — jet-setting, pitching and working on Fortune 100 and 500 brands, living the life many aspire to; a life we are told represents “personal growth” and “self-fulfillment.” Don’t get me wrong, I loved it deeply and completely. The way any addict loves his fix.
Hashimoto’s disease and adrenal fatigue
I probably had Hashimoto’s Disease for much longer than I knew. Hard to tell but I remember always feeling cold, even as a young adult.
I was living the high life in Shanghai when I realized something was really wrong. I still remember the day when Nike’s (my then client) briefed us on a new campaign. I took some notes and thought I would start on the plan the next day. The next morning, I opened my notebook and had little recollections of the notes, the meeting, and no idea what it was that I had to do. Total brain fog.
What followed were months of sporadic anxiety attacks, more forgetfulness, sliding into depression and swinging between being hyper- to being hypo-. One day a barking dog would spook me, I would yell at a waiter; another day I was too tired to get out of bed and too depressed and embarrassed to admit it.
I could not go to sleep as I was so wired up (a typical adrenal fatigue symptom) yet I could not wake up in the morning and function without two cups of coffee.
In spite of working long hours, I would go on long and straining runs, like this one here; running the mountains in Hong Kong. This over-training eventually led to adrenal fatigue.
I was beginning to hate who I had become.
The Great Wall of China Marathon (I did the half) which was an outstanding experience but I also felt like my body paid dearly afterwards.
After all, I was always the strong, go-to person and showing vulnerability was not part of my DNA or my vocabulary.
It was a very lonely time. I did not want to admit to anyone what I was going through, and the few people I tried explaining it to gave me the “we are all tired” look, “slow down a bit,” or the ridiculous “but you are so healthy” comment.
So that you know – Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which our own immune system starts attacking the thyroid, mistaking it for a foreign object. As a result, the thyroid starts declining in its function and you become sluggish, foggy brained, and depressed. The thyroid is a gland with a huge impact on the nervous system, metabolism, digestion and skin/nails.
My crusade for answers started again – this time in the offices of multiple endocrinologists, Chinese traditional medicine doctors, holistic healers, a library of books, endless internet research hours and emails, and calls to people who I found out had it. I was determined to get to the bottom of it, the same way I dealt with my acne and migraines 10 years earlier.
I never went on any medication as my TSH, T4 and T3 levels were “normal.” However, my TPO antibodies were over 1,000 (the norm is <35) but since the only medication they had were steroids, I decided to pass. Western medicine had nothing to offer a Hashimoto’s patient. No hope, no resources, no dietary advice, just a plain “we have no cure.”
With this, came a realization that today’s medicine and doctors failed me and millions of other thyroid patients and … I was on my own.
The food + toxicity + thyroid connection
Lavendar fields outside of Seattle. Food and herbal festivals are my weekend favorites.
The one thing I kept coming across over and over again is that toxicity found in food, environment and our emotions has a huge impact on the thyroid and the overall hormonal balance in women.
I was committed to making it work; I decided to slow down and clean up my act. I took a big step back. I quit my job, moved out of toxic Shanghai with another job in Seattle to start the healing process. These life choices are counter-intuitive when you are Type A personality.
We women push ourselves to our utter limits in the workplace to gain confidence, self-esteem, and validation. As I know today, this can be one of the leading causes of hormonal imbalance in women. Had I known it then…
The beginning of healing
I’m always asked “So, how did you do it?” Since it’s not commonly known how to successfully manage an autoimmune disorder, this is a very valid question to which I have no short answer. I don’t want you to think that I’m oversimplifying it by saying that I just cut out what was toxic and inflammatory in terms of food, water and emotions.
It really is that simple.
In spite of being a “good eater” (by whose standards?), I was still sick. So I further cut out what was toxic to my hormonal balance and added what was densely nourishing.
I graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as part of my healing journey and became a Certified Holistic Health Coach. As I began to heal, people would ask me “How did you do it?” I realized that my healing path will be different from yours as we are all different from each other. The school helped me learn the principals of bio-individuality; every person needs to eat and heal differently. This is something I apply actively in my practice today.
Losing my job
In spite of taking a “slower” job, I got laid-off, and I soon got another job offer to work on one of the leading junk food brands; the key strategy was getting kids and families addicted to junk food. My stomach turned upside down.
For the first time in my life, I got physically ill at the thought of working on a client’s agenda. This was the day I realized that A: as long as I work for someone, I will never be able to determine my destiny and B: it’s time to apply my advertising skills to impacting the masses to better causes.
Remission, living symptoms-free and
Thyroid Diet Coach
October 2008: TSH, FT3, FT4 – within norm TPO Antibodies – 1062; very high, should be below 60. Many symptoms, feeling awful.
Here is when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2008 (click to enlarge): As you can see the TSH, Free T3 and Free T4 levels were “within range” but my antibodies were sky-high. Most of all, I suffered from so many symptoms which the doctors dismissed.
June 2011: TSH, FT3, FT4 – within norm TPO Antibodies – down to 83 now. Symptoms-free, feeling awesome
These are the results after having made diet and lifestyle changes (click to enlarge): As you can see, I’m symptoms free. My TPO antibodies are still slightly elevated and I am working hard to get them to below 35 but… I also chose to primarily focus on the fact that I’ve been feeling simply… amazing.
This is why and how I set up my first nutrition practice called Thyroid Diet Coach.
In 2012, in spite of feeling good and having learned how to manage Hashimoto’s and honor my adrenals, I started experiencing bouts of hair loss. It would come and go every three months or so. I knew this was not due to the shampoos I was using, my diet or stress as they are all well-managed.
Further tests revealed two problems: estrogen dominance (based the 2/16 hydroxyestrone ratio) and heavy metal toxicity.
Frustrating? You bet. After all these years of working on my health, eating and living clean, letting go of whatever was toxic – emotionally and physically – and here I am, still not where I should be.
But you know what? A simple reframe did the magic. I thought to myself: “If there is a problem, there must be an opportunity.” What can I learn from it? And learn I did.
I dove, yet again, into research and connected with people in the industry who knew this stuff. It’s easy to get lost in the craziness of the internet – I’ve come to realize it can be a friend as much as a foe that creates anxiety, confusion, and ultimately a paralysis where you do not take any action as you just do not know where and how to start.
I got to work and learned how to balance my hormones. In short: there were two main concerns I had to address: my liver and the old amalgam fillings in my mouth. I had the latter removed by a specialized dentist. Expensive but highly overdue and well worth it. As for estrogen dominance, I focused on further detoxifying my liver with a tailor-made protocol.
I blogged about the details of what I did here, but if you do not want to read another long article, the summary of the results are:
- My hair loss stopped and I started having lots of baby hair growing back.
- My PMS is totally gone – even in my good days I always had a bit of a mood dip not noticeable to others but me. Now I feel absolutely nothing.
- My periods are painless and I do not get bloated at all. And yes, bloating is yet another symptom of estrogen dominance that we’ve grown to accept as a “norm” of every woman’s menstrual reality.
- Those stubborn seven strands of hair on my chin and rather dark hair above my lips stopped growing. Facial growth (under your chin and above your lips) are also a sign of estrogen dominance, or high androgens (male hormones).
All of it is not surprising, as my lab work has significantly improved, namely:
- My TPO antibodies dropped from 138 to 66 (more on that below).
- The marker for estrogen dominance (ED), 2:16 a-Hydroxyestrogen improved from 0.35 to 0.54 which means I no longer have estrogen dominance.
- My mercury and lead levels dropped to “normal” levels.
- My cortisol levels are mostly in “normal” range, too with a slight elevation at 12.30pm – something to work on.
- My reverse T3 (rT3) level dropped significantly. This is another great marker to observe as it’s often elevated due to estrogen dominance and adrenal issues. rT3 acts like T3 but instead of powering you up, it parks itself in the T3 receptors, does nothing and worse still, it blocks the real T3 from coming in and doing its job. T3 is what gives you healthy hair, good skin, energy, clarity of mind, etc.
This is pretty personal stuff but I want to share this with you so you know that amazing changes can happen when you do the right things. I scanned my results and highlighted the changes – before and after (see below).
TPO reduced since 5/2012 but still elevated. Do next: gluten cross-reactivity testing. Heavy metal (mercury and lead) reduction (click below to see full size)
Today and Hormones Balance
Having worked for years with women with thyroid issues, it is rare to see a woman suffering from only one hormonal imbalance. It became inevitable for me to learn to look holistically at what causes other hormonal imbalance in women. This is what led me to creating Hormones Balance – a coaching practice dedicated to balancing hormones naturally.
As for me, I’m happier and healthier than ever. I’m 40 years old today (as of 2013) and I feel better than I felt when I was 25. In fact, I am probably more energetic than most 25-year-olds today. My mission in life is to inspire you, give you hope, and the knowledge that you can heal too. Our body is an amazing machine; just give it a chance to heal naturally.
Putting the puzzle together
Looking back at it now, I clearly see what had happened. As a non-breast-fed baby, my immune system was never strong and probably never will be, I’ve learned to accept it. This is why eczema and ear infections plagued my early life.
Being overly sensitive to food and environment is also the result of a suppressed immune system – this is why I’m gluten-, dairy- and egg-intolerant today.
Having lived through the Chernobyl disaster and having consumed fresh milk and veggies one week after the explosion (the officials hid the news from the public), also had a profound effect on my thyroid, as well as millions of other women’s.
Being in a highly stressed job I exhausted my adrenals which are so hugely connected to the thyroid. I remember falling asleep after vigorous work-out routines; now I know the adrenals were just screaming for help.
Years of living in China and my lifestyle choices had a profound impact on the toxicity of my liver – this probably led to estrogen dominance and the bouts of hair loss.
A message for you
All I want you to take back from my story is this: there is hope and there is viable healing. Our body has an amazing capability to heal and recover. Just give it a chance by nourishing it with highly nutritionally-dense food and cutting out toxicity. Modern medicine, as we know it and trust it, does not always have the answers. Activate your inner voice and start searching for solutions outside of commonly prescribed medication.
Update 2019: Highlight of the year was a purchase of a mountain house just outside of Boulder, Colorado and getting my dogs; Charlie and Nella My health has been steadily improving and has been best in over a decade.
Update 2018: Fully recovered from surgery and well on the mend. This year was busy creating a line of supplements which we later rebranded to Wellena.
Update 2017: At age 44, I lost a battle to save my hips originating from congenital hip displacement and had a simultaneous bilateral hip replacement. It was a life-changing surgery that allowed me to live pain free again. Later that year, we launched our herbal program and my cookbook, Cooking for Hormone Balance.
Update September 2017: I underwent a pretty big surgery: both my hips got replaced at once. There was no choice – I tried so many different modalities to save them and things only got worse. My hips never fully developed in the womb and I got injured at birth by an ignorant doctor. I wrote a blog post about the pre-op and post-op things I did to recover – I’m told I had an exceptionally quick recovery. This is me 2.5 months after the surgery on Mount Sanitas in Boulder, CO.
Update July 2016: I now host regular Facebook Live Q&As on Fridays where I share my regular health updates, the latest being on oxalates, SIBO, food intolerances and how I reversed them. It really is a journey. To watch them LIVE, follow me on the Hormones Balance FB page (Fridays, 1oam PST, 1pm EST) or watch replays posted here.
Update June 2013: Part II of my journey where I talk about discovering and struggling with hair loss, adrenal fatigue, estrogen dominance and heavy metal toxicity and what I did about it. Read here.
Sharing a few personal photos with you
This breakfast gives me energy like no other food.
Always foraging, here: dandelion leaves. This was in Iceland where I lived for 5 months. Note the sweater in the summer.
Mushroom hunting in California. These are the magnificent King Boletes. We dehydrated them and used in stews.
Filming the Thyroid Secret documentary with my good friend, Dr. Izabella Wentz.
My outdoor office. Since I work a lot, I make a point to be outdoors as much as I can.
I truly believe that dogs can bring much healing – just from their sheer unconditional love, laughter and much outdoor time.
I formalized my love for plants and herbs by graduating as a certified herbalist. My neighbours always ask what I foraged today.
I always combine vacations with some culinary education. Here: with my friend Jenny McGruther from Nourished Kitchen at a culinary retreat in Tuscany, Italy.
At Harper Collin’s office who published my book – one of many exciting days of my career.
My love for good, clean food extends to camping as well. We camped at a volcano in Iceland.
This is the studio where we shot my cookbook.
2.5 months after double hip replacement – on Mount Sanitas in Boulder, CO which is a challenging mountain to scale.
10 years ago I wrote on a vision board that I wanted to live in the mountains, in a rustic house and be surrounded by nature. As they say – be careful what you wish for!
We rebranded our supplement line and added a skincare line – Wellena. I have the best team ever!