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  • Irene Downs

Life Defining Moments


My story began in Toronto Canada with a childhood surrounded by love and a love of good food. I grew up in a house with 2 supportive and hard -working parents and 3 siblings all very close in age. My parents were immigrants from the Ukraine and raised us on good old-fashioned home cooked meals with lots of garlic, onions, cabbage, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables. As a Canadian kid in the 1970s with immigrant parents whose grasp of the English language was limited all I wanted was to fit in. My school lunches of beautifully cooked leftovers from the night before was met with embarrassment as my friends ate their ham sandwiches on fluffy white bread. Needless to say, I did not appreciate how good I had it. I was blinded by the need to give in to the status quo and not stand out in my culturally different ways. I was intrigued by fast food and junk food which we had a distinct lack of in our household and was entranced by the packaged possibilities in the grocery stores. I loved my mum’s food, but I just wanted a McDonald’s cheeseburger!

Don’t get me wrong, the food I grew up with was delicious. It was always made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Nothing came out of a box. A freshly baked cake or pie was baked on Sunday to accompany the big family dinner and that was a special treat. Fruit was the dessert of choice during the rest of the week and we didn’t question that. It’s just what we did, and I loved it. The challenge for me was that I loved food in all its forms and I felt compelled to explore the untapped (for me at least) world of fast food and processed goodies.

Fast forward 20 years and I find myself with a husband and 3 children and in a position of responsibility to feed and nourish my beautiful family. By now I have fully indulged in my desire to experience any and all foods, healthy and otherwise, and my eating habits reflected that. I did not discriminate when it came to food. Everything was fair game and I was using fresh and processed foods alike to feed my family. In my eyes I was eating and feeding my family healthy meals. I didn’t fully understand what that meant until it became glaringly obvious when it all came crashing down in January 2006.

On New Year’s Eve 2005 I began to experience a numbness and tingling in my hands and feet and it came out of the blue. I went straight to Dr Google to make sense of these symptoms where I came across many frightening diagnoses, but I convinced myself that none of these could be possibilities and it was just something that would go away. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Not only did these symptoms persist but they progressed until I felt this same numbness in my throat and severe pain in my spine. It was excruciating and when the pain became unbearable my husband drove me to the hospital. Little did I know when I was admitted into the hospital on January 2nd 2006 I wouldn’t come out until April later that year.

I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). This condition manifests differently in every individual and may present as simple numbness and tingling or may progress to potentially life-threatening destruction of the myelin coating on the nerves. This very quickly shuts down the neural synapses that send messages throughout our bodies, messages that are critical to our survival and affect basic functioning such as breathing and organ function. Unfortunately, I had a severe case and would have died without the intensive medical intervention that I received.

I should preface all of this by saying I was not healthy for the previous 2 years prior to the onset of GBS. I had pneumonia when I was 8 months pregnant with my 3rd child and never seemed to fully recover. I was sleep deprived and running a house of 3 kids under 5 with little or no help from my workaholic husband. I was running on adrenaline and a variety of antibiotics.

I now know that all of this weakened my immune system and put me in prime position for contracting this significant illness. I didn’t understand that regular consumption of sugary foods and nutrient-poor foods further suppressed my immune system and robbed me of the nutrients needed to recover properly. My high stress sleep deprived unfit lifestyle made me ripe for the perfect storm and boy, storm she did!

The extent of the illness saw me completely paralysed from head to toe unable to breathe on my own or even close my eyelids and losing control of most of my bodily functions. I spent 6 weeks in the Intensive Care Unit hooked up to a ventilator and fed through a tube during which time I had lost 1/3 of my body weight. I didn’t eat solid food for 2 months and had lost all muscle tone. While in hospital I was on multiple rounds of antibiotics as I once again had pneumonia. I was on a powerful nerve blocker and on a steady drip of morphine to help me cope with the intense pain. While it was an excruciating and agonizing experience, as I look back on it now, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

It is this experience that changed the trajectory of my life and became the catalyst to embark on a journey of mental and physical wellbeing. As difficult as things were, it was worth all the pain and anguish. My body, wracked with the destructive effects of GBS needed repairing, rebuilding and restoring and I needed help to get there. I had the unique opportunity to hit the reset button and start over again.

I surrounded myself with people that would support my journey back to health. I sought help from nutritionist/naturopaths to a personal trainer, chiropractor, reflexologist and acupuncturist. Nothing was off limits including changing my mindset to a more positive and spiritually open one. I meditated, practiced yoga, made time for myself and went back to school to study nutrition and reflexology. Even my workaholic husband learned where the dishwasher was.

I have rediscovered ‘real’ food and learnt to boost my immune system naturally with gut healing and immune supporting foods. For the first time in my life I have a profound understanding of food as medicine. I understand the importance of making time to prepare meals from scratch and I now do my best to limit processed foods in all their forms. Taking control of my health and arming myself with the knowledge has allowed me to recover and restore my health.

I understand the challenges that come with eating well and making the best food choices. Life is busy and although we all want good health it just isn’t easy to get there. People often follow the path of least resistance.

As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Change takes time. If you want to live a healthier life, taking small steps is a great way to start. Seek help, education and guidance. There are plenty of resources at your disposal if you just open yourself up to them. You do not need a life-threatening illness to force change upon you. The energy and freedom that come from a healthy lifestyle are worth that little extra effort that change requires.

I have experienced change first-hand and I feel fortunate now to be able to use my unique experiences to help others to restore their health too. I take my passion for nutrition into the clinic and use that to gently guide my clients toward renewed health one step at a time. I encourage you to reach out and see what I can do to help you on your journey. I come from a place of kindness and compassion and I am always happy to help.

Live the life you were meant to have.





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