Ivy’s Story

Beginnings

I know when people look at me today it is hard for them to imagine I have ever had a worry in the world. And for the first two decades of my life I truly was happy, healthy, and carefree. But, as you will read in just a bit, my life has not always been picture perfect.

I was born in 1976 to a loving family with a stay-at-home mom who cooked a “square meal” every night of the week. My parents were health conscious for their time; Dad was an avid exerciser and Mom never brought processed foods into our house. My parents believed a healthy balanced meal meant eating from the four food groups, which meant a serving of meat, a starch, and a vegetable (iceberg lettuce counted) with every meal. Milk was also encouraged (it was believed to build strong bones), and dessert would typically be ice cream or some sort of fruit crisp concoction. Although dieting was never done in our house, occasionally my parents would hear about a trendy health fad and might even hop on the bandwagon. One of their doctors was a marathon runner, and I remember him getting my parents on a big pasta energy kick. I also still remember my mom and dad arguing about whether it was healthier to eat butter or margarine; Mom was convinced anything artificial like margarine couldn’t possibly be healthy, but Dad had high cholesterol and was firmly convinced margarine was the superior substitute for artery-clogging butter. I now know they were both wrong, but Mom was less wrong than Dad!

Certainly the homespun meals and the foods I ate were better from a nutritional standpoint than the fast-food pizza and snack-food dinners many of my friends ate, but I now know and my parents now realize the food I ate growing up and the foods my parents thought were healthy could have been even better. Still, despite not eating the absolute best diet in my childhood and teens I was relatively healthy. I was also extremely active, athletic, lean, and fit. I was an All-American cheerleader, dancer and gymnast and although staying fit was absolutely important to me, admittedly, when I was out of Mom’s sight I pretty much ate what I wanted. Sweets were, and still are, my vice so I can assure you I had my fair share of sweet treats when I was out of the house.

Not only did I not have an understanding of nutrition, I actually believed the only people who needed to watch their diets were people who were overweight, had heart disease, or had diabetes. If you didn’t have these old-person medical conditions, which I didn’t, I figured you were home free and could pretty much eat what you want . . . as long as you exercised. And exercise I did! I thought exercise was the ultimate elixir for good health. My motto was Exercise and You Can Eat Whatever You Want!

My entire view on food and the trajectory of my life changed in the summer of 1998. I was twenty-two years old, had just acquired my American College of Sports Medicine fitness instructor certification and was excited to be working in a hospital wellness center as an exercise specialist. I was working with clients who had fibromyalgia, arthritis, heart disease, osteoporosis, and many other degenerative conditions. While trying to develop an exercise prescription for these patients I distinctly remember thinking to myself that if these people had just exercised more in the first place they could have avoided their health issues. I actually believed this.

It wasn’t long before I began to feel sick myself. It started with embarrassing episodes of incontinence and extreme bladder urgency. I was waking up in the middle of the night six or seven times to go to the bathroom. I felt the urge to go every fifteen minutes in the middle of the day and soon was literally planning my days around access to a toilet. I was having overwhelming exhaustion, a fog overwhelmed my thoughts, and numbness crept down my right leg. My right thigh muscle would spasm so severely I could see the muscles twitch for hours on end. I developed a weakness in my right leg that made it difficult for me to use my hip flexors to raise my knee. My right foot would suddenly give out as I was walking, and I’d stumble for no reason. I visited three doctors but none had a clue what was wrong. I then had a very scary medical emergency, an episode of urinary retention where I couldn’t go to the bathroom at all. I ended up in the ER and left wearing a catheter. This doctor correctly informed me something was seriously wrong, and he urged me to go to the University of Miami to obtain a diagnosis.

From Illness to Exercise DVD – Ivy’s Story Part Two: A Life Changing Diagnosis