Brandie Hadfield wearing her red Paris dress.

Paris Dress

The dress was not purchased in Paris, it was bought at a Toronto shopping mall for my friend’s wedding in Carcassonne, France, a trip which we incorporated into our own honeymoon in Paris.  As we were doing spring cleaning this past weekend, I discovered it!  Should it go into the “donate” pile, I wondered?  “Try it on!” my husband encouraged.  So I did.  And it fit like a glove.  And made me feel like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”, just like it did the first time I tried it on in 2010 (and I have a great 6 degrees of separation story about Julia Roberts, by the way, but that is a story for another day).

Except this time, I felt even younger than I did 8 years ago.  PRE-children!  I know, amazing right?  And I hesitate to share all of this, because the good-girl-people-pleaser in me worries that I will annoy others with my sharing, or that it will be interpreted wrong or catch someone in the wrong angle and trigger them negatively.  I hesitate, I am actually SCARED to post this, but a bigger part of me is DRIVEN to share.  

This is why:

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Approaching 40 does not have to be debilitating.  You don’t actually HAVE to feel like you have been hit by a truck when you wake up every morning as a mom.  You don’t have to sleep train your babies to feel sane.  You can actually accomplish health, and vibrancy at any age, stage, and circumstance.  I believe that now with every fibre of my being, I am experiencing health and it feels unethical to keep that to myself if there is even a small chance someone reading this would feel hopeful again.

In 2010 I had a goal weight that I wanted to be for my wedding day.  I was strong, exercised vigorously most days, and ate what I thought was a very healthy diet.  I was known as a health nut, it was part of my personality for many years prior to that.  It was actually in 1999 when a boyfriend broke up with me that I first entered a gym.  I did what the trainers told me to, and once I saw my own body transform, I was hooked for life.  It was only a matter of time before health and wellness became my career. 

But in 2010, as I ramped up to my wedding day, lifting weights, sculpting my body, food journaling and supplementing with whey protein, I did not actually feel my best.  Like, in my skin.  I worked so hard to obtain my wedding bod, and I worried about losing it.  I was also very anxious (it was a constant state of being that I thought was normal, until now), and had a myriad of odd symptoms which I now believe were the beginning signs of autoimmune disorder(s). 

A Naturopath assessed me, and told me that I had a “classic athlete’s tongue” which meant that through assessing me, she could see that I was putting stress on my body physically and emotionally, but I was not taking in the phytonutrients needed to manage that stress.  She sent me home with a slew of supplements, but pretty soon I stopped filling them.  I was stressed out, had bouts of depression, restless legs, and a weird aching in my extremities that kept me awake at night.  No practitioner could figure out what the aching thing was. 

I had dealt with “The Ache” for over a decade.  It felt like it was coming from my bones, and it craved pressure, however pressure would make it ache more.  The only temporary relief would be a scalding hot bath.  Even in my early 20’s I would wake up in the middle of the night, rocking on my crouched up legs and taking hot baths to get back to sleep.

When I returned home from my honeymoon, I learned I was pregnant, and due to anxiety I took my maternity leave one month early.  I knew intuitively that I needed to make my world as stress-free as possible, so as to give my baby the best start possible.  So I lazed around in Toronto’s record setting heat wave of 2011, watching Golden Girls, eating ice cream sandwiches delivered via Grocery Gateway, and packing on more than 60 lbs onto my small frame.

After Julien was born, I had terrible joint pain in my hands.  So terrible that I was given prescription pain relief and hand braces (which I could not wear because I was a new mom, and my son was needing to be picked up and nursed constantly!).  As soon as I was able to, I began working out again, which I loved.  Both Belly Bootcamp and personal training were such a joy for me to attend.  The feeling as you regain your strength and can accomplish new things is quite something! 

I decided to carve out a career from home, which I did, teaching nutrition and sleep classes for new parents.  Then I found Juice Plus+, which I signed up to sell as part of my offerings to new parents, to make consuming fruits and vegetables easier.  I felt fantastic over the next three years.  No aches/pains and was able to cope with fractured sleep very well (so well, I was coaching others to do the same)!  

Then I got pregnant again, and while I was still taking Juice Plus+ (it was my prenatal), I was going through quite a stressful time of transition.  We moved out of Toronto and my Juice Plus+ stopped coming, and I took on a pile of other roles.  I was single-parenting Monday to Friday and wearing many hats career/volunteer wise, AND managing Julien who was going through the most behaviourally challenging period in his history, and adjusting to life with a newborn.  This is precisely when my own health should NOT take the back-burner, but it did.  I was able to shed most of the baby weight through home workouts, but I did not take my Juice Plus+ faithfully while I DID eat fast food regularly.  Did I mention my two favourite beverages at the time, coffee and beer? 

What ensued over the following two years went mostly unnoticed by others, because while my weight remained in healthy range (10 lbs more than the wedding bod I worked so hard for), all my health issues were invisible.  I knew better, I taught others better, but I was addicted to my comfort foods/drinks which became my coping mechanisms for the stress I was under.  Can you guess what happened?

Joint pain so terrible I could not lift my kids at times.  Aching in my extremities waking me up at night.  Breast infections (mastitis) literally every single month.  A buzzing anxiety that made it nearly impossible to sit down.  Chronic exhaustion that gave me that morning hit-by-a-truck feeling, and a 3:00pm slump that would find me dozing off watching cartoons with my kids.  On top of all that, I now had parasites and candida too.  But I “looked” OK.  I felt far from OK.  

One day I realized, a diagnosis was looming.  My marriage was also strained and I was finding myself hiding in the basement crying most days.  It felt like only a matter of time before I was going to hear the dreaded “C” word or something else.  I knew some BIG changes had to take place.  

It was not easy, I will not say it was.  Kicking old ways of being (especially when they take less thought, time and money than healthier ones) is huge.  I had to be obsessive at the beginning, like I was in a battle with the forces that were killing me.  The impending diseases that were trying to take Neville’s wife and Julien and Beau’s mom away.  It took at least a month of detox symptoms, kitchen and lifestyle overhauling before the clouds cleared.  But what a glorious sky was ahead!   I will never forget the day that Neville was home on a Saturday and gave me the usual morning pep talk of, “Don’t worry, I will take the boys so you can nap” and I said I did not NEED a nap! 

I felt great!  And then I took stock.  No joint or extremity pain, no infections that month, better energy all day, and anxiety buzz was GONE.  Wow, I thought I had needed to spend more money on therapy, but it had turned out nutrition was really at the core of what my challenges and, actually my whole family’s challenges were.

My Naturopathic Doctor having extensive experience in paediatrics listened to me explain the challenges I was facing with my eldest.  Challenges for which I had used every type of therapy, read every book on the topic and kept him home for his education to help him keep his own anxiety levels as low as possible.  She had some nutrition recommendations that I implemented, reluctantly at first, but then trusting Erica as I had tried everything else. 

Within 3 weeks of those changes, as well as getting my kids back on Juice Plus+, my eldest could be best described as having a huge weight lifted off him.  He now has manners at the dinner table, he handles disappointments with grace most of the time, he makes new friends easily, and can better manage his world at large.  

My husband by proxy of all these changes, lost nearly 30 lbs without trying!  The extra beer belly he had been carrying began to melt away.  Not only that– the bags under his eyes diminished, his skin brightened and his mood completely stabilized.  Once a completely spent and overworked Dad who kicked back with a pint every night, Neville was now having tea before bed and having a truly restorative sleep.  

The happily-ever-after part of this story is the Paris dress.  It fits again, and I feel GREAT about that.  My husband and I feel 10 years younger – or more.  We both feel happier, healthier and more joyful than our honeymoon in Paris, because we healed from within.  We did not simply over-exercise or calorie count to feel the way we do.  We consulted with a experts we trusted, we did the work to create better habits, and we flooded our bodies with phytonutrients and the best quality macronutrients daily.  Never again will be discount that difference that great nutrition makes to your whole life.

Oh!  And FOOD TASTES SO MUCH BETTER NOW!!  It is like our tastebuds have been retrained to know what is actually good!  I enjoy every single bit of the lovingly made meals I eat!  I learned kids WILL eat what you give them, and what you put in your child impacts their behaviour and mood!  Things I had been taught in my Health Coach training, but put into really intentional practice was paying off in every way.  When both parents and children have more stabilized moods, we feed off each other in the most positive ways instead of having tantrum pileups on top of each other!

My sister admitted to me that over the years it appeared I had it “all together”.  That I had created this perfect life that I was enjoying the heck out of.  While I am grateful for my home, my husband, and my amazing kids, I would not say any of it has been an easy ride.  When I came forward to share my health story on a Facebook Live, she was watching, and it allowed her to feel less alone with her own health and mothering challenges.

Because we are all naturally inclined to share what we are passionate about, I needed to share this all with you.  I am now going gangbusters with positioning the nutrition side to my business, because I know the trickle down is incredible with commitment, consistency and support.  I want to ensure YOU know that I can support you in this way.

I want to encourage you to reach out, be vulnerable, and be boastful, about your candid life, so that your most authentic connections can be forged, your village widened, and your ability to inspire, magnified.  If you need support, ask for it!  And if you feel like you have a gift to give others, go out there and share unabashedly!  I would be happy to talk to you about doing either or both!

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