joelle family

Joelle Epp: “There is hope even when you feel hopeless.”

I remember the first day I got my period. I learned very quickly to despise that time of the month. To me, terrible cramps were a given, often to the point of feeling like I was going to pass out or throw up…and it seemed like it just got progressively worse as the years went on. I could tell you story after story of trips into the doctors office, being given rides home from work or days of not leaving my bed. Drugs, despite trying them all, didn’t touch the pain. I tried to convince myself that my body was just preparing myself for childbirth one day,  because every month that’s what I imagined I was going through – but instead of getting a baby at the end of it I got a slap on the back that said – congratulations you get to do that again in 28 days. (insert sarcastic cheer and slow hand clap)

Years down the road I met a man, fell in love, got married and we started a family together. In 2010 we welcomed our firstborn son and then two years and a month later welcomed twin boys. Our lives were full and wild and crazy and busy and exhausting…we weren’t sleeping, we were eating to survive, we were just trying to make it…and then Aunt Flo came knocking on the door trying to find room in my already full house and she returned with anger, fury and retaliation as if taking a hiatus from her presence during pregnancy was some sort of personal attack. Each month when she came to visit – I couldn’t leave, I was her slave. And each month as she depleted my iron levels, depleted my bank account, ruined my plans, and dwindled my hope – I came to despise her more and more. Yet this time she came with a new trick up her sleeve, Instead of my periods being painful, they now were extremely heavy.

On Instagram one of my friends had asked the question “Is there one thing you hate about your body?” I have a positive self image – I love how I was made, I like my quirks, I like my face with or without makeup – but I hated my period. I wanted to love it, I wanted to embrace it, after all – my uterus bore my three beautiful children…but it tore me apart each month and I genuinely hated it.

It got so bad at one point – on top of iron support –  my doctor referred me to an OBGYN who gave me four options to solve the heavy bleeding, basically saying that if things kept going the way they were I’d get very sick and my body wouldn’t be able to keep up…that I had to do something. Birth Control, IUD, Uterine Ablation, or a Hysterectomy. I was desperate. I couldn’t keep living this way. The doctor knew it and so did I.  Birth Control seemed like the easy way – but not many years before my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after going on birth control to solve her heavy bleeding issues – and i was highly skeptical and unwilling to entertain this route despite claims that there was “no connection.” I clumped the IUD into the same category, but the other two surgical options seemed so extreme for such a young mom. I had four options presented and I didn’t like any of them.

Eventually at my wits end, my husband and I decided together to give the IUD a shot. We had been assured that low dose progestin was nothing like the estrogen in birth control pills and that it’s rate of helping women with heavy bleeding was highly successful. If bleeding heavy was hurting me so bad – an IUD would hurt me less, right? So I booked the appointment and gave it a shot.

The first two years I would have sung its praises. On the IUD, my periods almost entirely disappeared, I felt good, I felt free! Until I didn’t…things slowly started changing and I knew something wasn’t right. I felt like I was covering up the problem but knew the problem was still there. My periods that had almost entirely stopped, started coming back and sticking around for a long time, they were unpredictable and increasingly annoying. Its hard to describe but I felt numbed, like I was missing out on the highs and the lows that came with being a woman. I was doing to Aunt Flo what she had done to me – took her as my slave and she was crying to get out. I wanted my IUD out so bad, but was terrified of going back to the way things were even more. I felt the doom of a hysterectomy looming in my future.

At the beginning of this year – sometime late January – on referral from a friend I sent an email to Charity Elliot Nutrition, as I had been told that she was very knowledgeable in balancing hormones. This was a new concept to me and what sounded most intriguing to me was that Charity talked about finding the root problem and healing it – and this was something I had been desperate for. Could food really be medicine? Could changing the way I eat make my periods lighter? I didn’t know, but I knew I was desperate.

We chatted on the phone about family health history, my eating and exercise habits, my concerns, my symptoms, gut health, things like estrogen dominance and hormonal imbalances and then made a plan to get blood work from my doctor. I was a little nervous to meet with my doctor and explain to him that I wanted to try this natural route of changing the way I eat to help with my symptoms, and his response left me optimistic,  “If you feed your body crap, you will probably feel like crap…most people’s issues will disappear if they start giving their bodies the things it needs.” He even told me some wild stories of his patients that had amazing success by changing what they ate and were able to eventually go off of their reliance on medication altogether. Hallelujah! Between Charity, my doctor, supportive friends and my faith – I was feeling like we were on the right track. I didn’t know if it was going to change things, but for the first time in a long time I felt hopeful, I felt like I had a chance. Nobody was trying to sell me medication, supplements, a quick fix cure or a certain ideology (none of which are wrong in and of themselves)…but Charity was promoting real, from the earth, natural food and was on the search for finding the root problem. I was all in.

We started with an elimination diet that reflected my blood work results and slowly added things in watching carefully how my body reacted as I did. Charity helped me identify the signs of my body reacting negatively or positively to certain foods. She was confident that in order to be successful you have to be prepared – and for someone that fails at meal plans and likes to eat based on my cravings – I knew I needed to be prepared in a different way. Rather than having lists of what I couldn’t eat – I started filling my house with what I could, I began searching out all the recipes and started getting to work in the kitchen. So many people try to change their diets and feel confined by all their limitations so I knew for this to be sustainable I needed my mentality from the beginning to be different. Thinking things like “look at all the things I get to eat”,  “how do I make that taste good so I want to eat it” and “I am craving that – how do I make it in a way that my heart, mind and body all feel good about it after” became regular thoughts in my head. I eat the fruits and veggies, drink the water but I also eat all the donuts, eat more bars and chocolate treats – I’ve just learned to make them in a way that is good for my body’s current needs.

As we did this I noticed my cyst acne and blemishes, that I’ve had for years, cleared right up.  It gave me hope that my body was happier and feeling confident that we had prepared my body well for the change. On March 27, 2019 I went back to my doctor to get my IUD removed. You know when you lose something you love its said that a part of you is missing, in the opposite way when I lost my IUD I felt like I got a part of me back. I stuck to my new lifestyle changes feeling more and more thankful for this journey that brought me back to and way more appreciative for real food and I honestly started feeling healthier and more energetic. Charity warned me that the detox period to follow the IUD removal could be rough – I’m thankful she was my cheerleader during that process because my first two periods were long and heavy. When I was feeling crushed – Charity suggested foods to help combat my blood loss and nourish my body with the nutrients it lost. When I was feeling defeated – she encouraged me to give it more time. Hope, perseverance and grace get you a long way on the journey to health.

Before After

Then this past month I couldn’t even wait until my period was over to message Charity and tell her my excitement, for the first time in a very long time if EVER, I was experiencing a healthy period. I was able to go out on bike rides with my family, I didn’t have to cancel any plans, I left the house for a morning and got groceries, and even went to a school function without the fear of bleeding through. For the first time in my life it felt like my monthly enemy and l found peace with each other. For the first time in my life I was thankful for her presence. 

Health is a journey, I’m learning that slowly thirty two years into this life of mine. Its constantly changing and evolving, and it affects our hearts and minds more than we care to give it credit for. What we feed our bodies – not just food, but the words we take in, the friendships we keep, the knowledge we gain, and for me my faith – all plays a significant role in health. One thing I am confident of is that making these changes, in a culture that expects immediate results with limited effort, takes time, hard work and there’s no shortcuts. For me making food from scratch, cutting as many chemicals as possible out of our diets, removing hormone disrupting foods from our plates and practicing self control hasn’t come without a cost – but the price of going back seems much higher and what I’ve gained is priceless.

I’m thankful for medical professionals and nurses that have worked with me throughout the years, performing my 2 c-sections, fixing my son’s broken arm, knowing me well enough to recognize my iron deficiency before I did, caring for me and my family throughout the years so well and stitching up ALL of our many wounds. I’m thankful for my husband, friends and family members that have walked alongside me as I’ve been working at making big changes and especially for those chosen few who put up listening to me go on and on about all the gory details of my monthly cycle and cried with me when I felt just plain sad about it. I’m thankful for my kids that continue to motivate me to make healthy choices and for being so adventurous in trying tons of new recipes together. I’m thankful to Charity, my nutritionist for equipping me with so much knowledge and encouragement and helping me find a healthier way towards healing. I’m thankful that I have access to whole foods, and I’m thankful for how they have already changed my body for the better. I’ve found beauty, freedom and new life, and that I’m extremely thankful for.

If you have been struggling with this, I want you to know that you aren’t alone, and although your story is unique to you and our stories will look different from each other- there is hope even when you feel hopeless. Find a doctor you trust, call Charity or another nutritionist you trust and don’t be afraid to take some risks and make some big changes. Your life is worth it.


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