Body Knows Best—

The Importance of Listening to Our Bodies


August 2019 Issue

By Suzanne Eisinger   
Photography by Christian Lee

Janice Magnin and her three-year-old daughter Emma had just come home hungry and tired from a high school football game. Dinner would be late, so Janice offered Emma a cashew from the bag of nuts in her hand. In less than the time it took to walk across the room, Emma became violently ill.  

Tests revealed Emma had allergies to both tree nuts and peanuts. Doctors cautioned Janice that, as bad as this reaction had been, the next one could be much worse, since Emma’s body was now in full defense mode. For this reason, it was imperative that Emma’s diet—and environment—remain strictly nut-free. Over the next few years, Emma would be diagnosed with additional allergies to latex, carrots and celery, each time requiring a new layer of daily restrictions.

For Emma, now an upcoming fifth grader at Hilton Head IB Elementary, learning to live with life-threatening allergies has been a work in progress. She and her family must diligently read the ingredient labels of all foods, staying away from items that contain or may be prone to cross-contamination with dangerous allergens.  At social events, Emma avoids questionable foods or brings her own substitutions. Since the age of 8, she has carried an EpiPen and is trained on how to use it. Fortunately, so is Janice, who credits it with saving her daughter’s life when Emma suffered an anaphylactic reaction at the supermarket. At school, Emma’s classroom has been designated as nut-free, and there is a nut-free, table in the cafeteria. Still, accidents can and have happened. In the end, it’s up to Emma to remain vigilant for possible dangers.

As a parent who has learned these lessons the hard way, Janice offers the following advice: Have your child tested by a medical professional right away. Educate yourself and others about your child’s needs. And try to be understanding—not everyone understands the importance or danger of food allergies, so it may require a little more effort to bring them on board.

Grace Chaplin, a Hilton Head native and graduate from Hilton Head High School, was excitedly preparing for her freshman year at college when she began to experience troubling gastrointestinal symptoms.

Believing she simply had the flu, Grace initially delayed seeking treatment. However, the symptoms continued, and a subsequent visit to the doctor revealed that Grace has Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakes gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, as a foreign threat. Any exposure to gluten can trigger severe symptoms involving the small intestine.  
As part of her treatment, Grace was placed on a strictly gluten-free diet. For someone whose favorite foods included grilled cheese sandwiches and pizza, the sudden shift to a diet free of all gluten-containing breads, pastas and cereals took some adjustment. Still, her efforts paid off, and she noticed an immediate improvement in her symptoms.  

However, a year later Grace began suffering a new set of symptoms, including nausea and extreme weight fluctuations—losing 30 pounds over the summer. A gastroenterologist diagnosed her with lactose intolerance and ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammation of the large intestine’s innermost lining. His recommendations included steroidal medications to reduce intestinal damage and even more dietary restrictions.

For Grace, managing her condition has been an ongoing process of self-monitoring, education and, more recently, connecting with others. She admits that for a long time she was reluctant to discuss her condition with others, preferring to “power through” on her own with the support of select friends and family who knew her best. However, recently Grace has become active on online forums with other Celiac and UC sufferers, not only providing her with up-to-date information on her condition, but also reminding her that she is not alone.

Recently, Grace’s doctor suggested she consider a new immunosuppressant medication called Xeljanz. After six weeks she has noticed an immediate improvement in her symptoms. “I feel like myself again,” she said.  And while she must battle with insurance over coverage for the costly prescription, it’s the first time in months that Grace is hopeful for the year ahead.

Grace’s advice to others?  Get prompt medical attention, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others who share your condition. Also, never stop educating yourself. The more answers you have, the better you can live—and live well—with your condition.

BodyKnowsBest0819 2

Pictured Left to Right:
Janice and Emma Magnin, Grace Chaplin, Kerri Dodson and Dr. Ravina Balchandani

For certified nutrition therapist Kerri Dodson, these women’s stories illustrate the importance of listening to our bodies. While nutrition is her passion, Kerri stresses there are actually four “pillars” essential to a healthy life: Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitude and Nutrition, or LEAN. Without all four pillars, efforts to live a healthy life will likely fall short.

Kerri works for Nubodia, a health and wellness center with offices in Hilton Head and Bluffton. Many of her patients come in with the desire to lose weight, believing this will help them control more pressing health issues such as cholesterol or Type II Diabetes. However, the reverse is actually true. By correcting health problems through lifestyle, exercise, attitude and nutrition, weight loss will often follow naturally.

Typically, Kerri will speak with patients about their health goals and review their current diet and medications to develop a plan. Through simple diet changes, exercise, and/or nutritional supplements, patients can achieve lasting improvements to their health and quality of life, including improved sleep, fewer headaches and the reduced need for medications, just to name a few.

For Kerri, teaching others about the benefits of good nutrition and lifestyle is a labor of love. She began her journey 15 years ago when, in a quest to lose weight, she discovered a fundamental truth: supply your body with the nutrients it needs, and it will naturally do the rest. This discipline was especially helpful when she was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2016. “Nutrition has played a key role in helping me heal and controlling my inflammation,” Kerri says.

According to Kerri, many people don’t realize that symptoms they are experiencing are not the normal consequences of aging. Brain fog, bloating after meals, increasing cholesterol are not normal. Yet people become resigned, believing they must simply endure the discomforts of aging.

Ultimately, Kerri’s goal is a simple one: “I want to help people find their healthy, vibrant lives,” she says. “We are becoming a society of sick people, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Ready to begin?  Here are Kerri’s suggestions for a healthier lifestyle:

1. Get checked out—if you’re not feeling yourself, nutrition may be playing a bigger role than you think.

2. Take a dairy-free break—”At least 65 percent of the global population is lactose intolerant and don’t even know it,” Kerri says.  

3. Eat whole foods—The closer it is to its original state, the better. Avoid foods that are processed, found in a bag/box or come out of a drive-through window.

4. Eat high-fiber foods—especially fruits and vegetables!

Ultimately, the key to healthier lives is learning to listen to the signals our bodies are sending us. For Kerri, Grace and Emma, this has meant understanding their restrictions, educating themselves and others about their needs, and not letting their limitations get in the way of leading normal lives.  

So, just listen. You might be amazed at what your body teaches you.

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