Hope & Healing from Autoimmune Lyme Disease: Interview with Kat Woods
I first came across Kat Woods through her mouth-watering Instagram feed, HopeHealCook, and her blog by the same name. Kat posts the most scrumptious food pics that showcase her Autoimmune Paleo Diet, and her progression treating Autoimmune Lyme Disease.
Today’s Q & A with Kat is our second interview for our Autoimmune Awareness month, here on the blog. If you missed Robyn Baldwin’s interview about dealing with Multiple Sclerosis like an alpha female, please click here.
Just like me, Kat Woods contracted Lyme Disease. However, unlike me, she ended up with an autoimmune response where her body started to attack itself. Treating Lyme Disease, with companion autoimmune disorders like Lupus & ulcerative colitis is a tricky business. But, Kat has found a way to invite healing and recovery into her life through diet and a fierce holistic treatment regime.
Hope & Healing from Autoimmune Lyme Disease: Interview with Kat Woods of HopeHealCook:
When did you first begin to experience health issues, and how long did it take you to discover that you had Lyme Disease?
I’ve had health problems my whole life. As a child I was frequently sick, and I’ve always struggled with gastrointestinal problems and insomnia. Because I spent a lot of time out doors, I’ve been bitten by multiple ticks, and it’s possible I contracted Lyme Disease while quite young without knowing it. What I do know is that at age 13 I was bit by a tick that changed my life. It was during the already turbulent throws of adolescence that I began living with chronic illness and developed many of the neurological symptoms that accompany Lyme Disease. 18 years later I was finally diagnosed as having Chronic Lyme Disease by a Lyme Literate Naturopathic Doctor. In all the years in between no one had ever mentioned the possibility of Lyme Disease; despite the fact that I lived in an area where Lyme Disease was known to exist and warning signs about ticks carrying the disease were often displayed at parks and reserves.
What were those early years like, emotionally? What did you think was happening to your body?
Because I went undiagnosed for so long, I experienced different phases of living with chronic illness. In my teens and early twenties I was still functional, despite the aches, headaches, fatigue etc. It didn’t really occur to me that how I felt wasn’t normal; it had long been normal for me. I don’t think I realized until much, much later that other people didn’t go through life feeling achy, exhausted, and sick. In a way my symptoms became a kind of white noise that I tuned out. I had a lot of denial protecting me from harsh truths during the time my illnesses were revving up, and most of the time I was simply numbed to whatever was happening in my body. However, I spent a lot of time feeling really anxious and exhausted, and I used adrenalin and self criticism to keep me going. When my health went into rapid decline in my mid-twenties, the situation suddenly become both very serious and wildly unpredictable. I no longer had any kind of normal, and at first the predominant emotion was shock. Within a year I become bedridden and emaciated, watching my organs falter under the strain of some unknown and potentially fatal condition. When the raw reality of my situation fully hit home I was absolutely terrified. I felt a lot of frustration, too. I was told again and again by the medical community that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, although by that point I was clearly sick and very much looked it. Everything I was experiencing was so overwhelming; I was at a loss for how to process it. At times I was filled with rage. I would scream, “My life wasn’t supposed to be like this!” Sometimes I would just lie in bed hysterically crying. When my symptoms would flare up unexpectedly I would be gripped with panic. Often I felt hopeless. However, the most toxic emotion I experienced was self-blame. For most of my life I blamed myself for whatever suffering I experienced, and it was the same with my illness and symptoms. Finding hope, self love, and self-forgiveness was monumental to my healing process.
For my readers who are not familiar with diagnosing Lyme, what types of tests confirmed your diagnosis? And, do you also have co-infections?
I have many co-infections, and the presence of these infections was how I was initially diagnosed as having Lyme. When I first switched from conventional western medicine to seeing an out-of-pocket naturopathic doctor, one of the first things he did was order multiple labs, including those that tested for infections. I had so many infections (bacterial, viral, and fungal) that my doctor was shocked that I’d never lived in a third world country. My bacterial load alone was enough to explain the severity of my health problems, so I was never further tested for Lyme. The current blood testing for Lyme Disease is only 50% accurate, and it was only recently that my labs finally confirmed a Lyme diagnosis. For many people, myself included, a correct diagnoses is reached by looking for other various markers in the lab work, and by understanding what symptoms to look for. When I first began treatment for chronic Lyme, my doctor told me that the best way to know if you have Lyme Disease is to treat it. If treatments work, well then you know you had it. As incredible as this sounds, that’s often the case.
What is autoimmune Lyme Disease? And, when did you first develop autoimmune conditions?
My autoimmunity is systemic. What that means is that my immune cells attacks all of the cells of my body. In most autoimmune diseases a specific organ or area is attacked. For example, in Rheumatoid Arthritis, the joints are affected. When one’s entire body develops autoimmunity, it’s known as Lupus. There is a lot of current research that links Lupus to Chronic Lyme Disease. One of the reasons for this is that the bacteria responsible for the Lyme infection actually enters individual cells throughout the body. In order to fight the infection, the immune system has to attack it’s own tissues, which can result in autoimmunity. So saying I have Autoimmune Lyme Disease is essentially the same thing as saying I have Lupus. Not long after the tick bite I got as a teen, I began having symptoms similar to those found in Lupus, including muscle pain, severe fatigue, low grade fevers, and sensitivity to sunlight. I was diagnosed as having Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and was put on a cocktail of mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. No one seriously thought to look for a legitimate underlying cause for the chronic pain I was living with until my mid 20’s, by which time most of my organs had been damaged by systemic autoimmunity. I believe my first autoimmune condition, however, was actually Celiac Disease (gluten allergy). As a teenager, I diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, which is characterized by a combination of mood swings and episodes of psychosis. It turns out that gluten makes me hallucinate. In recent years there’s been a lot of scientific studies linking symptoms of psychological illnesses such as schizophrenia to Celiacs Disease. Lyme Disease can also cause these kinds of symptoms, and likely exacerbated them in my case; however, when I went gluten-free, I stopped having hallucinatory experiences — much to my relief. After years of taking psychotropic medicines by the handfuls, I quickly healed myself of an “incurable” mental illness just by removing gluten. This was my first lesson into how powerfully our diet affects all aspects of our health: physically and mentally.
What types of autoimmune conditions appeared?
My autoimmunity is systemic and wide spread. Over the years I’ve experienced rampant G.I. inflammation and a multitude of digestive symptoms similar to Ulcerative Colitis, joint swelling and pain, thyroid problems, and neurological symptoms like those found in Multiple Sclerosis, including temporary blindness, weakness, poor coordination, periods of partial paralysis, and muscle spasms. I have also had various problems and corresponding diagnoses related to disorders of the stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, kidneys, and liver.
What are your most prevalent signs and symptoms?
I have healed tremendously over the years and many days I feel quite well apart from needing to rest more. When my symptoms flare-up, as they can during the course of treatments, I often experience body aches, muscle pain, fatigue, brain fog, digestive problems, and insomnia. On my tougher days, I have seizures, palsy-like shaking, difficulty with speech, hot flashes and chills, trouble with mobility, dizziness, heart palpitations, joint point, and migraine headaches.
Treating Lyme Disease is a HUGE undertaking, and the process is massive; I know, I’ve been there. But, can you summarize your treatment strategy to target Lyme and your autoimmune conditions?
My treatment plan could best be described as slow and steady. I pushed myself so hard for so many years, driven by perfectionism. I needed my healing to be different from that, with room for greater self-awareness and acceptance, gentleness, and play. My protocols are based on Dr Kinghardt’s Biological Treatment for Lyme Disease, which works to heal Lyme, it’s co-infections, and co-factors in stages using natural medicines and supplements. I began by correcting my nutritional deficiencies with my nutrient dense diet and supplements, then worked to rebalance, strengthen and detoxify my organs and systems. I’ve been actively treating some of my infections, such as the parasites and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) more aggressively than others at this stage. Recently, I’ve introduced some chelation protocols and more anti-microbials that specifically target co-infections. Individual symptoms are addressed as they arise throughout this process. Most of my daily treatments revolve around detoxification protocols. Six days a week I maintain a detox-heavy schedule that includes using an infrared sauna, enemas, or a home colonic system, coffee enemas, detox baths, acupressure, and dry brushing. To address my autoimmunity and some of neurological symptoms, such as seizures, I rely on my diet. For full protocol details click here.
In your experience, what were the best treatments for your health?
The treatments and practices that enable me to rest and detox have been the most beneficial. I spent most of my life in some kind of fight or flight, so learning to let my guard down and truly relax has been critical for allowing my body to take on deep self healing. Actively detoxing has been crucial for moving forward with my treatments without further harming my body. I don’t detox well, so whatever I can do to support detoxification makes a huge difference in how I feel. My favorite treatments include sitting in my infrared sauna while watching cartoons, taking a detox bath with a good book, and spending time in nature. Whenever I can bring contentment or joy into the treatment I feel like I get much more out of it.
Can you describe what kind of diet you follow? And, how has diet affected your recovery?
I follow a diet that is based primarily on the P.K. Protocol for healing neurological conditions including Lyme (which is ketogenic and mostly Paleo, but also includes some raw dairy), and the Autoimmune Protocol diet (AIP: a modified form of the Paleo Diet that omits nuts, seeds, eggs, and nightshades.) I’m also mindful of dietary histamines and foods high in FODMAPs (types of sugars and starches that I’m unable to digest.) My partiuclar healing diet also incorporates the results of my food intolerance testing. It wasn’t until I removed all the foods that I reacted to that my health substantially improved. It turns out that I am actually intolerant of a lot of healthy whole foods like chicken and spinach. My current way of eating has been the catalyst for much of the progress I’ve made in the last 18 months. Within two weeks of switching to a diet free of all foods I’m intolerant to, there was an incredible shift: I started sleeping through the night and since then I no longer live with chronic inflammation, pain, or overwhelming fatigue. Now I’m able to eat more, exercise more, and increase the intensity of my treatments without over burdening my body. Once again, changing my diet was a game changer. It’s worth saying that I didn’t dive into this way of eating all at once. I went from gluten-free to grain-free. Then I cut nuts and seeds, then nightshades. Once I started to really pay attention to how I felt after eating certain foods, I began to see connections between my symptoms and my food choices. That awareness gave me the opportunity to make more empowered choices about what I ate. By filling myself up on satisfying, simple, and healthy meals, I was able to release the foods and eating patterns that no longer served me. So it’s not about what I’ve given up, but all the delicious new foods I’ve made room for and now savor.
On your website, hopehealcook.com, you talk about HOPE. How has HOPE helped you on the path to recovery?
Hope has been huge. I know what it’s like to feel completely and utterly hopeless. To be told you’re incurable or that it’s all in your head is a terrible feeling, one that can rob you of your will to move forward and press on. Understanding that there is hope, and seeing others demonstrate just how much hope there is, helped me to shift my mindset so I could empower myself and begin actively and holistically healing. I’ve gone from feeling chronically hopeless to believing in hope’s limitless potential. Hope has become my tether, and when things get rough I hold onto to it tightly. I use the word hope, but what I’m talking about is the same thing as faith: it’s first believing, and then knowing, that you can get better. It’s really important to me that I share my story and my healing because I want to be able to inspire hope in others just as they’ve inspired me.
What are your top practices that bring joy into your life?
So much brings joy into my life, but I especially love my quiet mornings. I start my day with meditation, prayer, and gratitude journaling, followed by some gentle yoga and a walk around my neighborhood. These practices help me to start my day with an open heart, feeling grateful and relaxed. Other things that bring me joy include: being with my husband, cooking, eating, reading and drawing comics, listening to records, playing with fur-babies, and blogging.
What strategies do you use to stay motivated to keep moving forward towards recovery?
Whenever I look back at where I’ve come from, I’m reminded of all that is possible when it comes to healing. Since I’ve healed this much, I feel like I have no reason to doubt that I won’t continue to heal completely. A lot of what I do to stay motivated is mental, it’s about recognizing when my thinking has turned negative and choosing to think different thoughts. I use a lot of affirmations; I focus on my progress and all that I have to be grateful for, and I regularly visualize myself as having radiant health. But perhaps most importantly, I make sure to have some fun, and to have moments of joy throughout the day, because recovery is a journey. As much as I can, I choose to make it an enjoyable one.
On your website, you’ve shared a series of Chronically Kat Comics that depict your experiences with healing; how has art influenced your recovery?
Sometimes I simply don’t know how to process my feelings using words alone. When that’s the case, drawing out the situation really helps me. By drawing myself as a cartoon character, I’m able to see myself with kinder eyes and cultivate renewed compassion for whatever I’m going through. My comics also help me to find the humor in what could otherwise be a stressful scenario. They’re an important way for me to express myself and laugh a little, both of which contribute to greater healing and wellness.
Do you have any practices that help you to stay positive despite having a chronic illness?
Daily gratitude lists and affirmations, acts of self-love and kindness, and restorative periods of rest and play are some of the ways that I maintain positivity. Making the time for things that I love that bring me happiness each and every day has been especially important. At the end of my day, I do a little bit of reflective journaling and one of the things I always ask myself is, “What are three acts of love and kindness that I showed myself?” This has helped me to get into the habit of being good to myself and treating myself to moments of joy. I also write a response to, “What did I accomplish today?” By focusing on all the things I get done each day (instead of what I couldn’t get to) I go to bed feeling positive and productive.
On your website, you share a great deal of healing food recipes. What is your favorite meal to prepare?
My favorite meal is always changing; that’s the beauty of intuitive eating! Whatever my body is craving, and is in season, tends to be my favorite. Right now, that includes homemade turkey sausages, roasted carrots and fresh juice made with lemony sorrel. Most of my meals follow the same formula: pressure cooked greens, pan fried meat, roasted veggies, and lots of healthy fats. Never fails!
If you were to meet someone with Lyme Disease or autoimmune conditions who is looking for help, what would you say to them? What do you think they need to know?
I would say, “You are loved. You are SOOOO loved! It’s okay if you don’t feel right, now. It’s still true.” That’s what I always want to say to folks who are need of healing. Also, you can heal from this; you can heal yourself, and you can love your life throughout the process. People need to know that there is hope; that what they eat really matters, and that there is a wonderful community of people just like them who have hurt and healed, and can help.
How can people find you online?
Kat Woods is a Western Culinary Institute graduate who currently puts her cooking know-how to use as a food and health blogger at HopeHealCook.com. She is passionate about real food, home cooking, and holistic healing with a focus on Whole Self Nourishment. Kat first began studying nutrition and the healing power of whole foods in culinary school, where she was deeply inspired by ancestral cuisines. In the course of healing from long term chronic illness, she has overcome multiple “incurable” medical diagnoses; proving that there is always Hope. Having gained profound wellness using natural medicine, a nutrient dense Paleo diet, and holistic lifestyle, she now devotes herself to sharing her real food recipes and healing practices with others. Kat continues to heal herself, laugh loudly, and occasionally draw comics. Her mantra is: live well, eat well, be well.