How I got here - My Personal Journey

When I was little, I did not decide that I was going to become a pharmacist, nutritionist, and health/lifestyle coach to help people. Like many others, my aspirations changed on a whim and also depended on my mood, my hobbies, and even the TV shows I watched at the time.

October 10th, 2020

When I was little, I did not decide that I was going to become a pharmacist, nutritionist, and health/lifestyle coach to help people. Like many others, my aspirations changed on a whim and also depended on my mood, my hobbies, and even the TV shows I watched at the time.

This isn't one of those jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring transformation stories that graces the cover of magazines. If you're expecting hundreds of pounds lost, a miraculous cure for a myriad of chronic diseases, and the magic pill from getting from fat to fit - you will not get that here! BUT, if you want to know what I've learnt on my own journey, and how small changes overtime result in positive transformations - then I invite you to sit back, relax, and continue to read on!

My cousin Susan and I back in Jamaica.

Fast forward 9 years, and my parents decided that we should immigrate to Canada for a better life. What a culture shock at first! We landed in Toronto on a bitter cold January day back in 1994. I recall the weather was -30 degrees with windchill. My aunt and uncle picked us up at the airport bearing toques, jackets, mitts, and boots! That first winter was brutal; the lotion burned going on my skin. Perpetual summer weather was now a remnant of the past.

In addition to the change in climate, the food environment was also vastly different. McDonalds was a novelty to me; it was also tasty and cheap! Pizza? Loved it! Burgers and fries? Yes please! I loved going for dim sum on the weekends when I went grocery shopping with my relatives. My uncle owned a corner store and soon a bag of chips with a pack of brownies (or some other sweet confection) became a regular after school snack and occurrence.

Summer of 2002: Feeling self-conscious about my acne.

Then, puberty hit. The development of unsightly acne and weight gain associated with puberty made me feel self-conscious about how I looked. While not obese or severely overweight, I became the "chubby" one, the "fat" friend. Whenever I went to visit my relatives in Hong Kong, they would comment on how much fatter I've gotten. My relatives never meant it in a malicious way, but those words can wreak havoc on a teenage girl's already low self-esteem. Shopping in Asia meant buying clothes that were XL or XXL while my other cousins could easily fit into S or M.

I did what we have been told for most of our lives. Eat less, and move more! I would follow 1200 calorie diets with meals and "healthy" snacks in between. I exercised as much as I could. The weight would drop slightly, and slowly creep back up overtime. This would undoubtedly repeat for most of my teenage years and into my mid-20s.

Although I felt self-conscious about my looks during my teenage years, my bubbly personality ensured I had lots of friends and I have many fond memories of my time in high school and university. Not having a clear path or idea of what I wanted to do, I applied for pharmacy school along with a couple of other friends and got accepted! That was how I became a pharmacist. My body and acne problems stayed more or less the same, but I would gain a pound or two every year.

Enter the real world, where I started working in a community pharmacy. I was constantly stressed and dealing with irate patients. I quickly became disenchanted with the profession that I was taught about in school. Alas, that is a tale for another day on another blog.

On a routine visit with my GP, my BP readings were consistently a bit higher than normal. After a few follow-up visits, she diagnosed me with hypertension (i.e. high blood pressure) at the age of 25.

I was shocked, ashamed, and disappointed in myself. I was a health care professional, how could I have high blood pressure?! I didn't smoke or drink. I tried to exercise and eat well. I was also very young. I was referred to a cardiologist and nephrologist, to see if a secondary cause of hypertension could be determined. Blood work and a 24 hour urine collection did not reveal anything; it was determined that this was likely essential hypertension with a very strong genetic component.

In retrospect - I identified several factors that were working against me:

My doctor prescribed me an Angiotensin II Receptor Blocker (ARB) and life continued as usual. I went to work for an independent pharmacy with better hours and less stress. I continued to try to "eat less, move more" and reduce calorie intake.

I fell in love and wanted to lose the weight that I had always intended to do before my wedding. I hired a personal trainer to get me on track. I met with her diligently twice a week, and would also do the workouts she prescribed to me. While I got stronger and definitely noted many non-scale victories such as losing a few inches, my results were modest at best. Looking back, there was no "diet" or "meal plan"; I did not change my way of eating. Now that I know what I know, therein lies the crux of the problem

Week 35 of my 1st pregnancy - Water retention everywhere. I was starting to develop cankles.

With love, comes marriage. Soon my husband and I envisioned little babies in a carriage. We got pregnant pretty quickly and we were over the moon to become parents-to-be. As the pregnancy progressed however, my hypertension started to rear its ugly head. I was attending prenatal yoga classes and still tried to "eat right", but my weight kept creeping up. I went from one blood pressure medication to taking 3 at one point. At 32 weeks, I had to take medical leave off work and go on bed rest. My daughter E came out 4 weeks early because they didn't note any further growth at my last ultrasound. E spent 2 weeks in the NICU but was able to return home. Everyday, I count my blessings that we have such excellent medical care in Canada.

This was the turning point for me. I needed to be there for my daughter, and I wanted to grow old with my husband. I needed to take control of my life and health; I decided to learn as much as I could about fitness, nutrition, and health.

I have always been a lifelong learner, but this was the first time I took a course or designation that did not pertain to the pharmacy profession. I signed up for the Fitness and Nutrition Expert course offered by Fit Chicks Academy. I fell down the rabbit hole, and I haven't looked back since. This course dispelled so many myths that you hear about in the fitness industry - from lifting weights makes you bulky or "butch" if you're a woman, eating fat makes you fat, and many more. It taught me about different types of exercise, and the importance of moving and being consistent. Most importantly, it taught me the importance of nutrition, and how it was possible to lose weight and get healthy without any exercise. For me, this was the missing piece of the puzzle - something clicked and I had to learn more. Blood sugar management, the importance of water, sleep, vitamins, minerals, stress management were all discussed and their role in our health and well being. We learned about hormone and digestion. I watched eye-opening documentaries that changed my perspective about the food industry and where their interests lie. To round it off, I also completed the Holistic Weight Loss Expert program also offered by Fit Chicks Academy so that I could learn about that other factors that influence weight gain.

This was the turning point for me. I needed to be there for my daughter, and I wanted to grow old with my husband. I needed to take control of my life and health; I decided to learn as much as I could about fitness, nutrition, and health.

Around the same time, I read about a physician named Dr. Jason Fung. The Toronto Star had featured an article on him, and his seemingly insane and radical idea of fasting (not eating) for his patients with diabetes in his kidney clinic. Not eating? For days? Extended fasts? One meal a day? The thought was so inconceivable at the time that I had trouble taking it seriously.

However, my new knowledge of nutrition, coupled with my understanding of how foods signal the release of hormones, lead to my understanding of why and how fasting works. I incorporated several small changes overtime, including getting rid of all sugary beverages (no Frappucinos, Green Tea Lattes, or pop), removed snacking throughout the day (I enjoy my 'snack' as part of my meal), intermittent fasting on most days, and Complete in 3 meals.

I didn't make all these changes at once, and it doesn't mean I don't fall off the wagon at times. Do I enjoy doughnuts? You bet! Have I got a sweet tooth? Of course! But what this means on my personal journey is that I'm mindful of everything I put into my mouth and the messages it sends to my body and cells.

2nd trimester of my 2nd pregnancy - intermittent fasting prior to conception helped with the weight gain

Now that I was empowered to eat better and to try to cook and prepare my own meals, I found that I almost-always got stuck by mid-week. I would start off Monday strong because I had all weekend to prep food. However, by the time Thursday came around I often didn't know what to make and succumbed to the temptation of takeout. I realized lots of people were in the same camp as me; there is a whole generation (or two) that doesn't know how to properly meal plan, meal prep, or cook! I enrolled in several other courses to fill this knowledge gap, including the Culinary Nutrition Expert program through the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.

On the professional side, I started working in an interprofessional geriatric outreach team. I saw countless frail seniors who had multiple chronic conditions, memory problems, falls, physical decline, and polypharmacy (taking 5 or more medications). More often than not, the fact that they required a home visit for an assessment meant that they were even more frail. My work with older adults elucidated to me that the key to healthy ageing starts much more upstream, and strongly depends on what we eat and what we do when we are young. A pill for every ill is not the right approach, especially for many chronic diseases.

I discovered I really enjoyed sharing my knowledge with others, and that I had a talent for explaining and teaching things in a way that others easily understood. There was a gap that I could fulfill with the unique skillset and knowledge that I had:

  1. In-depth knowledge of medications and its use - identifying drug-drug, drug-food, and drug-nutrient interactions
  2. In-depth knowledge of all the other factors that impact health and weight including sleep, stress levels, activity, etc.
  3. Expertise in meal-planning, meal prep, and time management
  4. Ability to facilitate change talk and help people develop small action plans, building confidence over time

My own health journey will continue to be lifelong; with the more I learn and know, my way of living and eating will continue to evolve and change based on the needs of my body. My personal health victories over the past 3 years include:

  1. Losing all the pregnancy weight after 2 kids.
  2. Blood pressure well controlled through eating, exercise, and a low dose beta-blocker. I'm confident that it will continue to improve as I tweak what I eat.
  3. Minimal bloating and stomach issues, especially after eating.
  4. Change in body composition; while the scale hasn't moved too much, it's definitely noticeable when I compare photos now compared to 5-6 years ago.
  5. Enough energy to - wake up early at 6am for my Monday to Friday workout, commit to my day job 100%, breastfeed my 15 month old twice a day, commit to continuing education at night, cook, and clean [among other things]! and last but not least...

Confidence and acceptance of how I feel and look. I appreciate my body and what it can do - I embrace both my curves and my muscles. I look forward to challenging and moving my body everyday.

"Make yourself a priority"

July 2020 - Loving myself: mind, body, and soul.

I am not perfect and I've fallen off the wagon before. My health journey is personal and unique and yours will be too! I understand competing priorities but also the importance of making yourself a priority. I've been there, and I get it. I can be your sounding board and your personal cheerleader. I'd love for you to work with me in order to achieve your goals and transform yourself! If my story resonates with you, be sure to visit often as I share what I know about health, wellness, medications, time management, and more! See you next time.

- Janet

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