Nutrition has taken up a lot of my time since the birth of my two children Edward & Élénore 4 years ago. I suffered from debilitating Postpartum Anxiety after their births and also went back to work fairly quickly as a professional actress on a critically acclaimed, Montreal shot television show called ’19-2′ (CTV). The pressure I was under felt crushingly overwhelming. I then had no prior history of mental illness or Anxiety in my life and at first felt extremely lost and isolated. I soon realized that in order to be the best parent I could be, a reliably versatile and invested actor and a happier human being, I had to take back the reins of my own health.
I was seeing a very good therapist at the time and taking medication that in tandem were definitely helping, but I had other treatment options in mind. I started researching the positive effects that specific dietary changes could have on alleviating anxiety symptoms and started diligently applying these changes in my own life. I consulted and enlisted the support of a clinical nutritionist to make sure I was covering all my bases, cut out addictive foods and known allergens from my daily routine and payed close attention to what was actually in my plate before I sat down to eat. The results were immediate. By rebalancing and understanding what my body needed nutritionally instead of eating out of habit or comfort, I was able to very effectively and significantly minimize my anxiety symptoms and eventually, along with the help of my therapist of course, stop taking my medication. It was a huge epiphany for me and my family.
Then one morning in august 2018, our daughter Élénore, just 2 years old at the time, came down the stairs, white as a sheet, and fainted on our couch in the living room. Within a month, she was diagnosed with Nocturnal Fasting Hypoglycemia by our Pediatric Endocrinologist, a condition that sees her blood glucose levels inexplicably drop dangerously low at night. Now because brain function is highly dependent on a certain level of glucose being maintained in our blood, the symptoms associated with hypoglycemia are grave and often include mental fog, confusion, dizziness, anxiety, blurry eye sight, clumsiness and loss of consciousness. Unfortunately for our little girl, the human organ responsible for managing sugar and glucose levels in our blood, the pancreas, wasn’t functioning as it should have been in her case.
A healthy pancreas has two distinct fonctions when it comes to the sugar we consume. It first regulates our blood sugar/glucose levels by making sure they don’t rise too high after meals by secreting two hormones most of us are already familiar with: insulin & proinsulin. For people afflicted with Diabetes, the pancreas suddenly stops secreting enough of these hormones which then causes blood glucose levels to sky rocket, dramatically increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, elevated blood pressure and even nerve damage and neuropathy. On the other hand, a healthy pancreas also regulates our blood glucose levels by making sure they don’t drop too low. To do this, it secretes another lesser known c-peptide hormone called ‘Glucagon’. For people afflicted with Hypoglycemia, like Élénore, the pancreas either does not secrete enough Glucagon or simply secretes too much insulin at the wrong time, allowing blood glucose levels to drop way past safe limits, threatening alertness, consciousness, emotional well being and in certain cases, if the condition is left untreated for too long, it can entirely shut down brain function and lead to death.
Because of my own very recent experience with mental illness and anxiety, I knew my daughter was fighting her own body, her own brain chemistry, her own mind and her own pancreas malfunctioning. Our Élénore essentially wasn’t able to be herself because sugar levels in her blood were completely out of whack. I wasn’t going to let this new health scare get the better of my daughter or of us as a family. And so again, I researched how dietary changes could help, but this time, in alleviating the symptoms of hypoglycemia. I didn’t just modify my own diet this time, I modified our entire family’s diet. And I did this again with the help of Caroline, our clinical nutritionist, to try and alleviate the pressure off of Élénore’s pancreas. Research has shown that for severe endocrine disorders such as Diabetes & Hypoglycemia, adopting a low carb, high fibre and high fat diet will in most cases significantly help regulate blood glucose levels and promote health and both physical and emotional well being.
And so, in order to support Élénore, so she wouldn’t feel different in any way shape or form, the four of us, my husband Matthew, her little brother Edward and I, all adopted the same diet as her: a Ketogenic Diet. Our nutritionist was crucial here in helping me make sure that my kids and my husband got everything they needed and more from this new dietary shift. I wrote up an entire food journal for her that documented our family’s weekly meal routine and recipes. Caroline shouldered me in modifying recipes that Élénore loved like our blueberry muffins, chocolate fudge brownies and lasagna. I moved away from high carbs, pesticides, grains, dairy, gluten and sugar towards organic produce, natural sweeteners like Stevia and Erythritol, almond flour, flax and chia seeds, nutrient packed vegetables, non-GMO soy and healthy fats like coconut and sunflower seed oils. It was hard to adjust at first. I stood there in my kitchen, hands on my hips, talking to myself in front of my oven: ‘why aren’t these muffins rising in the oven?!’ or ‘what’s the difference between deodorized and regular coconut oil?’ or ‘You can put zucchini in chocolate cake???’.
But within a matter of weeks after we completely shifted our nutritional habits towards this ketogenic diet, Élénore’s glucometer readings in the morning stopped hovering at the alarmingly low 2.8 mmol/L and instead shot up to 5 mmol/L or 6 mmol/L. Any endocrinologist will tell you that what’s called a ‘waking glucose level’ reading should normally sit between 4.5 mmol/L and 6 mmol/L when we wake up in the morning. That reading reflects a sustainable and healthy amount of glucose in the blood which leads to healthier mind sets, higher energy and enhances physical and emotional well being. Which is exactly what’s happened for Élénore. She wakes up happy and barrels down the stairs with her brother every morning now and literally drives us up the wall with the incredible amounts of energy she has! Our little girl is back! It’s been a full year now since we’ve implemented these ketogenic eating habits at home and we haven’t looked back since.
Even if we’re still investigating the cause of her hypoglycemia and even if certain other symptoms are unfortunately still messing with her on certain levels? Her healthier daily routine, her growth curves and her big beautiful smile have all flourished again and we’re so grateful for it. And tomorrow happens to be a big day for us. We were referred by Élénore’s doctor at the Montreal Children’s Hospital to a very respected pediatric endocrinologist in the United States at the Connecticut Children’s Hospital. We’re heading down there in the morning to see if we can get clearer answers and solve this elusive pancreatic mystery.
The reason I wanted to share all of this with you now is to highlight the often forgotten fact that our mental, emotional and physical health is intricately linked to the food we eat. I wanted to share my experiences and hard learned lessons with you because this life is short and the choices we make every day about what we eat can make a big difference in how we feel about ourselves and help us to put our very best foot forward into this short life. Trust me, we’ll all keep figuring this out together as we go and hopefully keep sharing and growing from each other’s food love epiphanies. In the mean time, dream big, never lose faith and know that you have the power to transform your life by simply choosing to focus on nutrition and what your body needs as opposed to what you think you want or crave at any given moment.