Many people have asked me about my story, why I do what I do, how it all started and even How I do what I do. I didn’t set out to become an expert on either weight-loss or detoxification. In the spring of 1990, I was an ordinary woman living an ordinary life. I was 35, married, a mother and happily following my calling as a registered nurse. We lived in Southern California, where my husband at that time and I owned and operated three nursing homes providing healthcare to medically fragile and developmentally disabled children and adults. But unbeknownst to my staff and patients, I had begun experiencing medical problems of my own.
I noticed that I was getting occasional headaches that, over time, became more frequent. Since I was very busy at home and at work, I just chalked it up to stress and popped an aspirin. No big deal, I thought. Then, I started feeling a little pain in my joints—nothing too uncomfortable or disabling. I would ignore these indications that something was wrong, down another aspirin or Tylenol and go on about my life. Little by little things started getting worse. My joints started aching; my muscles began to hurt; I started having night sweats; my heart started racing. I did not sleep for days even though I was exhausted.
I sought help, beginning with my internist, who did not know what was wrong, so suggested I see another doctor. Over the course of several years, I saw close to 30 physicians: my primary, different neurologists, immunologists, a rheumatoid arthritis expert, several heart specialists, a psychiatrist, a gastroenterologist. None of them could figure out what was going on. Was it lupus? Multiple sclerosis? Cancer? A bone disease? Chron’s disease? A boatload of viruses? Over time different doctors suspected many ghastly, horrible things, but nobody was certain about what was happening to my body. At first, they told me to keep taking pain medications to relieve my symptoms. Then they started handing me prescriptions: antibiotics, arthritis meds, steroids. At one point I was taking thirteen different drugs, the worst being Methotrexate a drug used for chemo- therapy. In the meantime my symptoms kept getting worse and instead of occurring individually they started happening all at once.
Before long, whatever was going wrong with me took over my body and life. I lost my appetite. I lost weight. I was so constipated and very nauseous most of the time. . My thinking became slow and muddled—sometimes my brain was so foggy that it felt like I was stuck in a Coca-Cola bottle and couldn’t get out. My body was bloated; my skin hurt and so did my eyeballs. At one point it felt like bugs were crawling all over me. Needless to say, as my body and life spiraled out of control and I sunk into a deep depression. I had basically become bedridden. On one of the rare days that I dragged myself out, I apparently drove in circles for hours while taking my daughter Whitney to Nursery school. Her school was only two blocks from our home. When I snapped out of a deep fog, I had no idea where I was, where I’d been or where the time had gone. That’s when I knew something was desperately wrong. I admitted that I had a serious problem. I knew that if I didn’t get help, I would be in serious trouble and possibly lose my daughter.
You might wonder how someone like me could find myself in a situation like this. As a nurse and a nursing-home owner and administrator, I certainly knew a lot of doctors. I, of all people, should have been able to obtain proper care. So it would seem. But like many people who develop a chronic illness, I had unknowingly strayed onto what healthcare providers secretly call “the sick wheel”: you go from doctor to doctor none of whom knows exactly what’s wrong or has the complete picture of what’s going on, though each prescribes an additional medicine. When you’re on the sick wheel, you end up taking drug after drug, one for the physical symptoms you originally showed up with, then another to cover up the symptoms, or side effects, the first drug causes. After a while your kidneys start hurting from trying to filter the man-made chemicals from the first two drugs out of your system. The kidneys are like the body’s trashcans, filtering waste and toxins from the blood, creating urine, helping to regulate blood pressure, but they aren’t designed to process synthetic substances like pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides in your environment or chemicals in your food and water. Once they start aching the doctors typically prescribe a third drug to mask those symptoms. Before long, you have to take a fourth to cover up the symptoms caused by the third one. You reach a point where so many things are going wrong with your body that no one really knows what the problem is: the drugs or the disease.
Many people in the medical community know this cycle by a more ominous name: the “death ceremony.” It’s only a matter of time before the synthetic ingredients in the drugs wreak havoc inside your body, which becomes burdened with substances it wasn’t designed to process and, therefore, experiences as toxic. Eventually, these chemicals exhaust the kidney and liver. My eyes turned yellow a serious indication that my liver was not working at optimal level. Many people end up on dialysis or a transplant list because medicine has damaged their organs. And lots of folks actually die of so-called “side effects” rather than of the disease they’re being treated for. In fact, the fourth leading cause of death according to the Food and Drug Administration is cited as “Adverse drug reactions.” Not surprisingly, people become depressed as they lose their quality of life and hope. Within medical circles it’s a well-known practice that the last drug they give you is Prozac.
Since I worked within the hospital system, I knew I was waltzing a dance with death. I believed that I was supposed to have all the answers since I was the health practitioner in the family. I knew it was my moral and professional duty to help others, but for some reason, I thought that I wasn’t supposed to get sick. Now that I was ill, I felt fearful, ashamed and isolated; this of course, made my situation worse.
One of the few people who knew what was going on with me was my girlfriend Deb. I let Deb talk me into getting a colonic, a holistic procedure where a trained practitioner flushes out your colon, or large intestine, with water. The colon is the primary organ that eliminates waste and toxins from the body. When the colon is clean the body is able to purify itself more easily. At the time, hospitals still gave people enemas to clean out their bowels and to help them use the bathroom more easily, so a colonic was nothing but a glorified enema in my mind. Since nothing the doctors were doing was helping and Deb had offered to pay for it, I figured, “Why not?”
During my appointment, colon therapist Eloise of Agoura, California, explained how the procedure helped remove toxins from the body “You’re over-proteinized,” Eloise told me.
“Nonsense,” I thought to myself. My typical diet consisted of meat and potatoes. “How can you eat too much protein?” I wondered. Yet I had to admit that I felt better after that colonic, too. And she wasn’t trying to give me any pills, which was a relief after my previous experiences with medication. Over time, I began to trust Eloise and continued to see her regularly.
I decided to take Eloise advice to go see an herbalist, a health practitioner who treats illness by using plant-based remedies administered as teas, capsules and tinctures. The herbalist was shocked to see the list of prescription medications I was taking.The more he asked about my medical treatment, the more I realized I didn’t know the answers to some very basic, yet vital, questions. This made me feel both scared and inadequate. I was a nurse, after all! I should have had answers. Prescription drugs, while helpful, are serious business and are not to be taken lightly.
“I know this is going to sound crazy to you,” I said, “but my mind is so foggy I feel like I’m in a Coca-Cola bottle.”
“You’re not crazy, you’re sick,” he told me. “We’re all exposed to many toxins—in the environment, in our homes and in our workplaces. You’re carrying a huge toxic load in your system and your body is being compromised.”
That made sense to me. I explained that in my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, butterflies and ladybugs and little insects were always flying around. But in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley, California, where I now lived and worked, nothing flew, nothing moved. It was an agricultural area. Crop dusting was prevalent; herbicides and pesticides were ubiquitous. California also has among the nation’s most stringent rules involving pest control in nursing facilities. We were always getting sprayed for something.
“Aha! That’s the problem: your body can’t take this stuff anymore,” he told me. “All these drugs you’re on are making things worse. We’ve got to wean you off of them. And your digestive system is very bad. We have to put you on baby food.”
The idea of getting off my meds was a big stretch to me. I didn’t want to be over-medicated, but at the same time I didn’t think it was safe for me to be completely medication-free. The thought that I had to eat baby food sounded outrageous. What Dr. Taylor was saying and the way he was thinking was foreign to me, but the more we talked, I sensed that he was right. I felt relieved and hopeful for the first time. I sobbed the whole appointment because I felt hopeful for the first time.
For several months baby food was my only form of sustenance. I lost a lot of weight, which concerned me since I was already small because I was so sick. My herbalist just told me that if I wanted to maintain my weight to eat more of it. I wasn’t exactly in love with the stuff and it’s hard to eat 20 jars of baby food every day, but I ate enough to sustain me. Before long I noticed my energy returning. In about three months, I felt noticeably better.
Today I understand that my body was releasing a boatload of toxins. That organic baby food was pure (no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives) and simple (just pure fruit or vegetable with nothing else mixed in) enough that a baby’s newly formed digestive system could tolerate it. It was a lot easier for my body to break down than regular food, healthier than the food I’d been eating, and it allowed my digestive system to rest. As my body grew stronger, one by one the herbalist began weaning me off of prescription drugs.
Feeling better and slowly recovering my life, something told me to order a copy of my medical chart. When it arrived it was huge! I read every page of notes each of the doctors had written from all my appointments over the years. Toward the end of my file, I came across one set of notations called S.O.A.P. (an acronym standing for subjective, objective, assessment, plan) notes, in which the doctor or nurse assesses and summarizes what is going on with the patient, then writes a plan for their care. Here’s what my S.O.A.P. notes said:
Subjective: “Feeling weak, feverish, my joints ache and I have a severe headache, I feel like I am in a Coke bottle and I can’t get out.”
Objective: Well dressed and well-informed female presenting in my office once again with multiple symptoms that do not seem to change but grow.
Assessment: Temperature: 99.2; Pulse: 88; Respiration: 20; Blood pressure: 98/60; Weight: 128 lbs; Skin: warm, dry; affect: flat.
Plan: Prozac 40 mg QD, RTC in 90 days
The word hit me like a ton of bricks: Plan! Prozac, The death ceremony. The doctors had placed me in it. I felt like I was being stabbed in the heart. My medical peers had given up and written me off, as I’d seen happen to many other patients.
“OH MY God! If I don’t save my life, no one will save it for me,”
I lost faith in my medical peers’ ability to help me get well. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I realized that I had to go on a rampage to save my own life.
By this time my marriage had fallen apart and I was a single mother. I was desperate, scared and slowly losing my business. My childhood friend, Tony came to California, rescued me, and became my business partner and we got married. Tony helped me hold onto my business, which allowed me to focus on getting better.
After about a year of working with Eloise and my herbalist, one of them told me about a clinic in Mexico that offered treatments you couldn’t obtain in the U.S. I went there for about two weeks, while Tony and my staff held down the fort.
At the American Biologics Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, healthcare was approached very differently than in the United States. Instead of prescribing prescription medications, the Clinic used natural remedies to improve my immune function; thereby, allowing my own body to fight the toxins and viruses invading it. I tested positive for many chemicals, viruses, including cytomegalovirus (CMV), which they explained was compromising my liver, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia, neither of which I had heard of. CFS is characterized by devastating tiredness that prohibits you from performing common activities. Fibromyalgia affects the muscles and joints and the endocrine and cognitive systems, causing anxiety, severe pain, apathy, confusion and irritability. Years later, I was diagnosed as having environmental illness (EI), where exposure to environmental hazards like chemicals, allergens, pollution and other toxins makes you sick or aggravates existing medical conditions.
All these conditions are common among people whose body is overloaded with toxic chemicals, but at that time American medical professionals were just learning about them. Most doctors would tell you that it was “all in your head,” when, in fact, you need multi-specialist approach since they affect so many different organs and systems. In Mexico, I received many different treatments that I hadn’t known about before—live-blood-cell therapy, intravenous vitamin drips, coffee enemas, Glutathione IV, Ozone treatments—and, yes, more colonics. I was stunned to discover that there were many more ways to help people heal than I had been exposed to in the United States. When I left Mexico, I was still sick but I felt hopeful, noticeably better and was able to begin working again.
Months passed I got well enough to become curious about how and why I felt better. I threw myself into learning everything I could about holistic medicine. I was still ill so I did most of my studying in bed. By now, I knew that a healthy colon would be the key to my recovery, so I studied to become certified as a colon therapist, earning my certificate in 1993. Around that time Tony relocated back to Connecticut had a accident, sustained a brain injury that took years to recover from that put an additional stress on our life. I enrolled in the distance-learning program in Natural Healing. I immersed myself in the science of how the body innately heals itself.
As I studied natural healing, I began to learn that alternative doctors are preventing heart attacks and minimizing the need for prescription drugs and surgery by doing things like helping people eat healthier foods, strengthening their immune systems and administering treatments designed to remove poisonous heavy metals like arsenic and mercury from their body. The more I learned, the more I grew disenchanted—and sometimes even angry with my profession. While complementary medicine, a diverse collection of healthcare practices and products that fall outside of the traditions of conventional medicine, isn’t the end all and be all, it does have an awful lot to offer. Unfortunately, the medical establishment looks down on it.
I earned my Ph.D. in Natural Healing in 1996. Thirsty for more knowledge, I enrolled in the Clayton School of Natural Healing to receive my N.D.(Naturopathic Doctor Degree). A naturopath differs from a traditional allopathic doctor educated at a typical American medical school. Allopathic physicians are trained to diagnose and treat diseases, prescribe drugs, and perform invasive surgical procedures. They do not learn much about prevention, how a person can heal their own body, or how to correct the root causes or reasons a person developed a health condition in the first place, though few will just come out and tell you this.
Naturopaths are trained to be both healers and educators. We believe that when provided with the right conditions the body naturally and innately heals itself. Our job is to teach our clients how to create those conditions. A naturopath’s training is similar to that of an allopathic doctor, but instead of learning how to prescribe drugs and perform surgery (which we believe are useful, but just not the treatment of first choice) we are trained to treat our clients with foods, nutritional supplements, herbs, enemas, colonics, various mind/body/spirit approaches, iridology, Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine (a healing system native to India), stress reduction and relaxation techniques that help the body heal itself.
In naturopathic school learned many important concepts that would help me to heal myself. For example, that brain fog/Coke bottle feeling that caused me to feel “out of it” and unable to find my daughter’s school? I learned it’s a classic symptom of Candida, a type of fungus where the body is overrun with yeast cells, and that you can get rid of it by going on an anti-Candida cleanse and strict program of dietary changes, herbs and phytonutrients.
I also realized that I had to be able to understand and help people who were sick access their mind-body connection. So I next studied became certified as a hypnotist by the American Institute of Hypnotherapy. Knowing hypnosis also helped me overcome my own physical challenges. As I educated myself, I “test drove” on my own body every procedure I learned in school. I learned their strengths and limitations, what worked and what didn’t. Overall, I was amazed by the results!
Wellness is a process; it doesn’t come in a magic pill. Yet I’ve learned that there’s often a point at which you get over some kind of hump and suddenly realize you’re getting better. It had taken me about 10 years, but I accomplished my goal of healing myself! One day, I woke up and realized I felt great. I had the kind of feeling that makes you sing in the shower at the top of your lungs! I don’t know what happened on that particular morning;
While I was engaged in this exhausting process of studying and healing, I decided to go to a Island to heal suggested by my friend Deb. Though I had grown up in and lived in Connecticut, about four hours from “The Vineyard,” as the island is called, I didn’t know anything about this playground for the “rich and famous.” I hadn’t had any downtime since I could remember, so I gladly investigated. The ferry ride over was beautiful. I felt rejuvenated by the blue skies, the feel of warm sunshine on my face, the seagulls that waft alongside the boat as it travels, and the smell of the fresh sea air. When I arrived, I felt like I was in heaven. I loved the pastel-colored gingerbread cottages, the dramatic cliffs, the island’s scenic lighthouses. I decided that I had to live there. Within a year my family and I had moved into a spacious home in the town of Oak Bluffs.
Wellness is a process; it doesn’t come in a magic pill. Yet I’ve learned that there’s often a point at which you get over some kind of hump and suddenly realize you’re getting better. It had taken me about 10 years, but I accomplished my goal of healing myself! One day, I woke up and realized I felt great. I had the kind of feeling that makes you sing in the shower at the top of your lungs! I don’t know what happened on that particular morning.
On the Island I worked as a nurse at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. I had mixed feelings about being back in a hospital setting, but my return to traditional medicine taught me a lot. I found that I felt guilty distributing the roughly 25 pills I provided to many of my patients daily, knowing that I was exposing them to the medicine’s side effects. I realized, instead, that I wanted to teach people to repair, regenerate and rejuvenate themselves by detoxifying their body. As a side job, I began working with older people who were interested in being weaned off of medications. Over time, my client list grew. I also started a support group for people with CFS. Word traveled that I knew how to help people heal. Before long, my house was filled with friends and guests wanting me to help them get better from CFS, cancer, diabetes, MS, CFS, etc.
In the middle of all this, I bore my son Toron. I also have an older step son, Tony, Jr., who is older than Whitney. My pregnancy put more stress on my healing but-still-fragile body than it was able to handle. After giving birth, it took me a month to walk and two years to recover. While nursing myself back to optimal health, I developed the cleansing program and healing philosophy behind the Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox. I was able to resume a full life as a wife, mother and healer.
Stresses increased with compounded problems related to Tony’s, brain injury, seizures, etc. fear overwhelmed me and I had a major exacerbation that landed me back in bed for a month. Our life was controlled by illness, uncertainty and fear. We closed the businesses in California a few years later and divorced 5 years after that. I continued my healing.
In 1999 I opened the Martha’s Vineyard Holistic Retreat located in Vineyard Haven. My background allows me to integrate traditional Western and alternative approaches, while my experience in acute and chronic care allows me to help people who are extremely sick. My clients range from Islanders to vacationers to New Age gurus to medical doctors, some of whom say they fear being run out of their profession for pursuing alternative care. In the off-season I travel around the country and treat people in their homes.
I noticed that as I detoxed my clients to help them improve their health, they would feel thrilled that they were also losing weight. I kept reminding them that they were healing from chronic diseases, but they kept talking about dropping pounds. In time, I started to understand just how important weight loss was to them. Indeed, a healthy body and a healthy weight go hand in hand, and weight-loss is a wonderful consequence of detoxifying the body. But between the demands of starting a business, beginning menopause (at which point my metabolism slowed to a crawl), and not exercising, I started to get quite heavy. Although I was eating very healthy foods, over several years I gained about 50 pounds that I contribute to stress, imbalance hormones, obesogens and metabolic syndrome. This really bothered me. Even prior to getting sick, I had been obsessed with dieting. Weight has always been a challenge for me; the women in my family tend to be hippy and we all carry weight around our butt. Over the years I’d done a lot of research on diets and dieting and tried them all: Atkins, Pritikin, high protein, low carb. None of them worked. Fortunately, by this time I knew that toxicity must play a role, but I was so busy helping to heal others that I didn’t address my own weight problem right away.
One day James Hester entertainment-industry promotions professional, came to stay at the Inn. He was surprised not only by how much younger and vibrant he looked after detoxing, but by how his energy level and outlook on life both improved during the process. I detoxed James twice. He lost 21 pounds twiced. He started referring his friends and family. They detoxed, lost weight, felt better and looked great. But after he knew me fairly well, James got on my case, insisting that I needed to lose weight. At his urging I decided to heed my own advice and lost the 50 pounds. “This detoxing for health is great,” he told me. “But I am convinced that you have a diet!” He went on a mission to get me this book deal The Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox; 21 pounds in 21 days book became a reality. You’ve heard about it on Larry King Live or on The View. Or maybe you’ve read about it in the glossy pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, or seen it on the cover of Women’s World when you were at the supermarket. Celebrities have done it…and you’ve wondered. Is it possible? Does it really work? How could it? Yet the fact is it has been written about and talked about all over: in The New York Daily News, The Boston Globe and countless national newspapers and all over the New York Post’s famous “Page Six.” The book has spawned countless online support groups and user blogs, testimonials galore, been featured in a 2-hour documentary on the E channel and just last week, was featured on TV’s newest hit reality show, The Real Housewives of New York City. It’s even made radio history: When the authors spoke on the “Steve Harvey Morning Show” (the #1 syndicated radio show), it resulted in an extraordinary thousand hits a minute, turning a 5-minute spot into a full hour show. In short, there’s no question that since its release, 21 Pounds in 21 Days has made news as quickest, easiest way to shed pounds, boost your energy and get yourself on a positive wellness track. It has made me the country’s leading advocate of the benefits of healthy, cleansing detoxes.
Now, I am taking my program to the next level, making it more accessible to greater numbers of people, and focusing on What Happens after the detox. My new book, 1 Pound A Day offers an expanded, simplified month long program to cleanse your body and a new plan for keeping it clean for the rest of your life. I have learned where detoxers need support. I have received so many practical questions and realize detoxers need more help transitioning from the detox and changing their eating habits for the rest of their lives. That is why I have changed the program from twenty-one days to a month and devote a third of the book to how to eat after you complete the detox to sustain all the improvements you experience. I believe if you give the body what it needs it will work hard for you to stay in harmony. So give it “Maximum Nutrition in Small Dosages all Day” that’s a detox worth talking about.
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