We love sharing success stories from PHCI alumni who have transformed their health through primal living and are now guiding others to experiencing fundamental growth and change in their lives. Today we’re sharing Sarah Hotchkiss’s story. Sarah is a PHCI graduate and founder of Catalyst Wellness Coaching. Read on to hear all about her transformative path to health coaching success.
I discovered the Primal lifestyle about 14 years ago in the hopes of improving a variety of physical health issues I had yet to identify (which later surfaced as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, adrenal fatigue, low vitamin D, suspected POTS, low blood pressure, migraines, and vertigo). While I appeared to be a healthy woman in my 30s, daily I was dealing with significant abdominal pain and distension, headaches, nausea, blurred vision, fatigue, and honestly just frustration because I thought I was doing “all the right things.” While I did not “feel” results right away, I was determined to stick with it and figure it out because I couldn’t imagine having the rest of my life feel so horrible. I was an avid runner, gym-goer, was a healthy weight, and was successful at my job, relationships, and at the time was starting a family.
My health issues impacted my life with reduced self-esteem, cancelled work and social events, trips to the ER/urgent care, visits to countless doctors and loss of time I would rather be spending doing other things. It significantly limited my wardrobe choices for work or the gym because often I looked (and felt) 6 months pregnant. I felt like an outcast for eating differently; it impacted my marriage and I felt alone. This experience was a major roller coaster for me, from determined and motivated to frustrated and hopeless back to determined and motivated and back to complete despair again! On my worst days I couldn’t physically move much or was puking, dizzy or nauseous and limited in many ways. On my best days I had energy and was up until 3 am researching the latest diet, supplement, or practitioner that could help me, clinging to hope for some relief. The process of learning propelled me forward.
What I Tried
I tried sugar detox, Whole 30, traditional Paleo, low FODMAP, SIBO diet, AIP, SCD, and many others. With each diet I carefully monitored and journaled everything…and I hated it. I’d sometimes get a false sense of excitement because there would appear to be some symptom alleviation for a few days, maybe a week, and one time I felt awesome for 16 whole days OMG. I had first heard about the Primal/Paleo food lifestyle from a friend, but I didn’t realize the other parts of this lifestyle that it entailed until years later. While my focus area started with food, I learned it was so much more than that.
One of the things I ended up giving up that helped me was long distance running and almost all higher intensity cardio, as well as giving myself permission to STOP doing the things I hated (spin class, kettlebells). I even cut cardio back to nearly nothing other than just staying active like walks, jogs, kayaking etc. as well as my once-a-week brief sprints. I also added yoga about 7 years ago as well as fell in love with aerial silks which have both been fitness challenges and lifesavers for my mind and body. Additionally, I discovered I had flipped cortisol, so I invested in a happy light for those dark winter mornings, and asked my husband for help with getting the kids to school or breakfast so I could listen to my body in the mornings. I spent years on an elimination diet which, although grueling, turned out to give me the most relief. I dove into research and continued my journey, all whilst working a 50-hour-a-week plus job, having two babies, managing a household, and showing my face at the gym at least 5 days a week. Many years of research and connecting with others with similar issues, and a whole host of both local and national functional med practitioners, propelled me forward a little more each year, although progress felt. So. Slow.
What Finally Worked
Fast forward to maybe 5 years ago when Facebook and Instagram really exploded. I was able to join support groups online and subscribe to my fav magazine ever: Paleo Magazine. Probably one of the most difficult pushes I had to give myself was attending Paleo f(x) conference in Austin, TX by myself about 3 years ago. Why was that such a big deal? Well for starters I HATE to fly. All my symptoms are exacerbated x10. The thought of feeling like absolute crap and doing it all alone freaked me out. Secondly it was missing work, family life, and my kids who I had rarely left alone other than our once-a-year vacation.
Paleo f(x) was life changing for me. Have you ever gone somewhere and you’re like, “These are my people”? Yeah well that was it for me. It was at that moment I started imagining… What might it be like if I did something different? What if I could help other people? I started a book of “wild and crazy ideas” and that was it. I still have this journal; it’s orange. At this point it had been over a decade of trial and error for me and I felt like while I was not “cured” (never will be), I had really made significant progress. I had significantly narrowed down what my symptoms WERE NOT (Celiac, a heart attack (yep that was a fun EKG—that’s another story), gallbladder, Lyme disease, blood sugar issues, thyroid, Epstein Barr). On my worst days in the ER, or crying at another doctor appt, or laying on the bathroom floor with nausea or pretending to feel “just fine” at work or social events, all I kept thinking was “This has happened for a reason and someday I’ll do something AMAZING with it.” That thought was what kept me in the game and moving forward. After several years I was able to establish a personalized diet for myself that worked 90% of the time, improve my sleep quality and quantity, and decrease the activities which completely taxed my adrenals, as well as get on some amazing high quality supplements to further support the results.
What Finally Propelled Me Into Health Coaching
What ultimately made me want to become a health coach honestly was getting 1000 wrong answers from most western medicine practitioners and receiving significant results with my naturopath, local, who I’d seen for nearly 20 years. I also felt like at some point I had made significant improvements and while everyone is different, I couldn’t NOT share my results. After I had helped myself, could I then change our household and teach my kids about cooking and food as medicine, sustainable farming and alternative medicine options? My kids came with me to the co-op, the farmers’ market, juicing workshops, and helped us in the garden. I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve researched and the number of conferences I’ve attended, but I feel like I have tons of info and tips to share with others. I’ve learned as much as possible about supplements, made connections with local farmers and co-ops within a 60-mile radius, committed to sleeping better, and ask for help more. Every day I learn something new. I am now a certified Primal Health Coach, and in addition to being a licensed therapist of 20+ years, have received training in AIP and Low FODMAP lifestyle coaching.
— Sarah Hotchkiss