About a decade ago, the head of nephrology at Stony Brook University Medical Center, Dr. Edward Nord, uttered this during my quarterly check up, “You are the healthiest sick person I know.” I laughed. “I’m serious,” he added. “You made a diagnosis nearly impossible because of the way you eat and live.”
Beginning in the late 1980’s I spent summers working at Naturally Good Foods & Café in Montauk. My passion for cooking ran deep. For four years this kitchen was my food as medicine crash course, and the beginning of a persistent itch that shaped my life personally and professionally transforming me into the healthiest sick person that my doctor ever knew.
Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, among other traumas, took its toll. Without acknowledgement and proper support to heal, life inevitably became tumultuous, inside and out. Many in my position don’t get out alive. Most turn to destructive behaviors. With a stroke of good luck, I turned to food. Despite living a healthy lifestyle from a young age, tools to manage the emotional tidal wave that trauma can cause were limited. Gasping for air in my college years, the Student Counseling Center became my temporary life raft. But as a confused teenager with no real comfort zone at home, physical illness ensued—my pain was silenced having nowhere to go but inward.
My late teens and 20’s were marked by bizarre symptoms from urinary tract and kidney infections to incessant aches and pains to chronic hives. Autoimmune disease was discussed amongst doctors but there was no real resolution. I forged ahead, eating well and pawing at every self-help book possible. In the late 1990’s culinary school offered shelter, and under the tutelage of many gifted teachers, I thrived. However, my despair was smothering. Self-help wasn’t cutting it anymore. Facing deep inner pain is ugly but the only way to get to the other side is to walk through. And so it began…
I entered trauma-centric therapy. I tried EMDR, group therapy, past life regression, energy work, acupuncture and so on. Money earned and gifted went towards blindly trying to help myself. I liken life at that time to being under deep dark water, seeing the light of the surface but not knowing how to reach it. And yet, in spite of it all, I just kept swimming towards the glimmer.
At around the same time, I entered graduate school for nutrition and folded myself into caring for others through my profession. As an innate empath, my desire to heal others was my own disguised cry for help.
Physical ailments returned with a vengeance marking the beginning of a decade long medical nightmare—too many doctors and diagnostics to count, two unsuccessful surgeries and multiple misdiagnoses—landing me at Stony Brook University Medical Center where it was determined that a rare kidney disease was the culprit. In the end, without an alkaline diet, I could have compromised my health beyond repair possibly risking losing my kidneys. My food choices saved me.
The work never stops—psycho emotionally and physically. Turns out I do live with an autoimmune condition that went undiagnosed for 30 years. The renal disease is a common complication. Regardless, I feel incredibly blessed. Life could have turned out much differently. My wellbeing is a full time job, one that I take seriously so I can be healthy for my kids as well as my husband and myself.
I have finally reached the surface of that deep ocean. And being able to pass healing forward is central to who I am, both personally and professionally. We all have the power to be the healthiest sick people our doctors know.
Nourishment Warrior Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN is a Culinary Nutritionist, author of What The Fork Are You Eating, founder of REBOOT FOOD™, speaker and consultant. She transforms the way people eat by using hands on experiences to inspire, educate and offer practical tools for food lifestyle change.