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All The King’s Men…
When your dad is a doctor and all the best contacts he has can’t help your chronic, unexplained condition, what do you do? Well, you take matters into your own hands, says Amy Kurtz, author of Kicking Sick. After hitting rock bottom, the only way for Amy was up, and she gives us all the juice on how she came out on top.
Finding The Root Of The Problem
With 1 in 2 Americans sick with a chronic illness, it’s no wonder functional medicine is taking off as a practice that can address the whole person and dig deep to find the underlying causes of disease. In Amy’s case, she was lucky enough to get treated by Dr. Mark Hyman M.D. who diagnosed her debilitating spinal pain as celiac disease, proving how far downstream symptoms can occur from the original issue.
Be Your Own Hero
But healing from something that has knocked down all the systems in your body requires more than just a better diet and some yoga. It requires a huge mental shift, taking ownership of your body and health, and making the decision that you are capable and deserving of true health. Amy describes how she has developed strong self-care practices that include meditation, sleep and mindfulness that are now non-negotiables in her life. She has changed the way she relates to herself and crafted her whole lifestyle to revolve around her wellbeing.
The Journey Begins Within
Amy is a beacon of light in the darkness of chronic disease, and her message is clear and sympathetic: decide you deserve more, empower yourself with knowledge and find the right doctor for you, to be a partner in your healing journey. And read her book!
Interview Notes From The Show:
– Hey, welcome back to the Urban Monk. I’m happy to be here with somebody who’s actually run the miles. You know, I’ve been doing this show for a while. We’ve blended this show with The Health Bridge and I’ve had pretty much every health expert worth talking to. Not everyone but a lot of them on the show. And we’re getting top-down dissemination of information from people, usually ivory towers, New York Times best selling authors who have written a gajillion books on health. And so now we have a very interesting grassroots approach to this today. Amy Kurtz was sick and she was famously sick and she wasn’t doing well and so this is her journey back from sick to wellness, having worked with a lot of the top experts out there in the field. But this is now a patient-centered conversation from someone who has been there, felt that, been on rock bottom, and worked their way back up. So Amy, hi, welcome.
– Hi, thank you so much for having me.
– Yeah, thanks for being here. Thanks for doing the work because you know it’s really easy to listen to the traditional doctors and just take the drugs and not feel well and just keep not feeling well and wondering why it’s not working. Or at some point you gotta take matters into your own hands. So give us a little bit of your backstory. How did you, you were sick. How sick, what was the deal?
– Well, I was very healthy or so I thought as a child. And then when I was 14, I came home from a dance class and I was a very active kid, and I felt this shooting pain go up my spine. And I’d never felt anything like it. And it never really went away. So it was from that moment on that I went on this quest with my parents to try to figure out what was causing the pain. And I went to a lot of the best specialists. My father’s a doctor and we went to every resource that we could find. And nobody could identify the root cause of the pain. And so I was put on a lot of medications to try to treat the symptom and it did for a while but heavy duty medications certainly makes you identify as sick or unwell. And when I was 25 I went abroad and I picked up a parasite infection and it sort of tipped everything totally out of balance for me. So later I found out that the cause of my pain was celiac disease and it had just presented itself in my body as an inflammatory response to the gluten I was eating. But it wore my body down over so much time that every system just pretty much malfunctioned and it was like a system down. And I had to really go back to basics and learn all these things that I had never known to be true about medicine or healing or anything. And I was very very sick and I had no other choice but to take my health into my own hands. And I figured out myself how to get well and meet the right kinds of people that could help me and how to really totally change my lifestyle so that everything was centered around my well-being and healing.
– That’s tough, so you have obviously a lot of friends in high places in medicine. So your Daddy knew some people, you went to everyone, you went to all the specialists, they ran all their tests. I’m assuming you gave a lot of blood, you got poked and prodded and they couldn’t figure this out for years. How did you come down with the diagnosis after all that pain you went through?
– Well, so when I was younger we went to specialists. And in the 90s nobody really was talking, at least where I’m from, nobody was talking about it could be food related. So I went through all the tests then. And then when I went abroad and I got very sick, I came home and I think this is what you’re referring to, is at that point?
– Is that the question?
– [Pedram] Well, the celiac.
– Okay, so, ask me the question one more time.
– So I understand.
– Sure, so when you finally came to a diagnosis, it took a while to get there, right?
– And so they couldn’t find it is what I’m hearing.
– So because there were so many things that weren’t working properly. My thyroid wasn’t working properly and my gastric system totally shut down. I couldn’t go to the bathroom. I couldn’t keep food down. It was a very severe reaction to everything that was happening. And eventually I started to seek out doctors that took a functional medicine approach and looked at the whole body as many moving systems and thought of nutrition as medicine and food as medicine. And when I finally got myself to those doctors is when I started to realize that food can really change the biology in your body. And they tested me and I came back positive for celiac.
– So you saw my friend Mark Hyman. And was he your personal physician?
– He is, he still is.
– He still is, he still is.
– Great, great. And he’s, was his practice up in the Berkshires?
– Yes, so I had been struggling for several years and I’d always heard his name. I’d heard him speak at the nutrition school that I went to before any of this happened. And I always knew that I would know who he was but I didn’t know how and I always respected his work. And when I was really desperate for answers, I asked somebody to do me a favor if they could get me in to see him ’cause he wasn’t taking people at the time. And I road-tripped up to Lenox to see him. And that’s when everything really started to turn around for me.
– Got it, yeah, you know it’s funny. I was just up there and we missed each other but I was up at Kripalu. What a beautiful part of the world, oh my goodness.
– It’s so beautiful.
– It’s really good.
– So you start seeing Mark and he starts saying “Okay, look, we gotta change around your diet. “This ain’t gonna happen overnight.” So then what happens? You go in, you’re finally, you have hope because there’s someone who might be able to help you. But then what steps start getting taken that start giving you a little bit more energy and making you feel better?
– Well, what was nice is that Mark had been sick like I was when he was younger. In the foreword to my book they’ll read more about that. But so he was the first person that, he literally drew a map of my body on a piece of paper and showed me all of the different systems and how they connect to each other. And until then I didn’t even know that that was a part of medicine or that that existed. And he started to explain to me that if all the different organisms in the body aren’t working properly that nothing else can really function. So he started to address my thyroid and that’s the master gland in the body, so if that’s not working properly, nothing else really can. And so once we started to get that under control, that really helped. I totally revamped my diet. A lot for me in my healing journey has been self-care rituals and creating mindfulness practices for myself and really changing the way that I relate to myself and how I slow down and how I start my day and meditating and totally revamping the way that I saw well-being was very important to my healing.
– What was your life like before that? What did you do for a career? Were you a student? What were you doing before you had to change everything?
– I was a student for a while and then I was an actress in New York City. And I was planning to move to LA right before I went abroad. And to supplement my acting career, I was a health coach so I was starting to get into health and wellness before any of this happened. Ironically, now it’s become totally my life’s purpose but I, so I went and got my degree as a health coach and I was doing that before. And now, acting, I don’t even think about it anymore.
– Yeah yeah, why act when you could just have an authentic message that needs to be told.
– Yeah it really does.
– Yeah, and someone else’s script versus your own? Who needs it, right? You get your own.
– Yeah, and so, okay so you have this busy life. You’re doing your thing. Now what does it look like? ‘Cause so many people can’t envision what it looks like to change life in a way that would do what you got out of it, right? Okay, I’m just gonna start meditating, I’m gonna do this. I mean, was it a total reset or did they basically fall one domino at a time?
– Up until this point I had been a person that functions in extremes but for this it really was one practice at a time. And I tried everything. I think you have to try everything when you have a complex health situation. You have to be willing to try everything and see what works for you as an individual because each person is completely different. And for me, I really did try everything. And then when something stuck and was really meaningful for me or I could feel the profound impact that it had on my life and the way that I related to myself and the way that I lived then I would incorporate it into a practice for myself. And now those are non-negotiables for me. And they’re just the way that I live. So it’s been a great journey. It was something that was deeply traumatic that I’ve made really deeply transformative. And that’s why I wrote the book, was to share that process with people that really need it.
– So you saw Gabby Bernstein, you saw Elena Brower, Kris Carr, Simone, Joel Evans, you’ve seen Jessica Ortner. You’ve seen a number of people. What was this landscape like? You have a dream team here and so did it take the whole village to do this? Everyone brought their own little piece to putting you back together?
– Well, it’s a little bit different because so what I’ve created in the book is called an A-team which is your go to people, your doctors, the healers to help you, and your teachers that are really the parachute for which you set up your healing. And so that is Dr. Evans and Dr. Mullin and Dr. Hyman and several other people. And then there are what I called my favorites which are thought leaders that changed the way that I thought about life and healing based on what I had read from them. And then I started studying their classes and taking their courses and reading their books. And then I also have the glow warriors who are what I call the champions of the good life, who are women who have really tricky diagnosis and have learned to thrive through the experience rather than be sidelined by their diagnosis. And so all of those people have helped me in so many ways. Some of them I have seen in person others I’ve just connected with them deeply through their words, and the way that they see the world. And it’s changed the way that I thought so it has had a huge imprint on me.
– So you’re reading a lot.
– Yeah, yeah.
– I’m a student so I’d have to be.
– That’s it.
– To take care of yourself in this day and age, right?
– That’s it and there’s just so much we don’t know and if you could take the leverage of someone’s entire life experience in a book and download it and be able to use that to make your life better, it’s kind of a no brainer. But I’m always aghast at how few people who are ailing, pick up books and read about their conditions and things that would actually help them.
– It’s really really true. And it was important to me when I wrote this book that it had a very specific relatable tone because I’m the person that needed this book. And Kris Carr, for me, was the book that turned it all around for me and made me want to be a student again. There’s a lot of things that come up when you’re sick that make you just wanna give up and her book in particular was the one that turned my light back on and made me realize that I could change the way that I saw a difficult situation and turn it around for myself. And after that, I’ve been reading and reading and reading. But there really is a point where it sometimes, the resources that you have out there aren’t motivating or don’t deeply move you enough to make a real change for yourself and to become your own health advocate and feel empowered. So for me, her book did that for me, and then I started becoming a student.
– So, you’re young and so hopefully you didn’t have too many terrible habits going into this thing. But one of the problems I see and maybe you did, but one of the problems I see is the inertia that comes from years and years, decades of bad habits that people have. And then they might read a Kris Carr and get really motivated for a minute but then it’s like, “Oh, it’s Thanksgiving “and how am I not gonna have the pumpkin pie?” Right, and then all of these scripts and narratives and stories from the past bog them down again. Was it a quantum reboot for you? Do you have to basically, fundamentally become a different person and how did that look?
– I don’t think that you ever totally become a different person. You just become a different version of who you were and you’re smarter and wiser when you learn things that really move you. I don’t think I became a different person. I just woke up and realized that my health was mine to take and change and that I really could have the life and the wellness that I so deeply wanted if I started to see my situation differently. And if I started to approach what had felt overwhelming to me as something that I could really change. And I think when you get, the first place to start is to realize that you really do have the power to change where you are and you really do have the power to believe it can be completely different than it is for you. And when I really could grasp that mindset, everything started to change for me.
– Right on, yeah it’s a big deal. Once you make that decision, you can’t really go back. And if you go back, you know you’re really screwing up. A lot of people I know in this space, people who’ve healed to a certain degree and all of a sudden become evangelists for health still have a lot of health issues but they’re still talking about health. How hard is it to walk the walk once you get carried into, say, this thing. You got a good looking book out, you’re probably out there promoting it and all these things. And then it’s like, damn it, I didn’t get enough sleep. Oh, I didn’t get enough time for my meditation. I’m at an Indianapolis airport and they don’t have the food I can eat, right? So how hard is it to maintain all that while being a messenger for that? I see it all the time.
– Yeah, I mean, humans, we’re human. And we’re not, it’s in our DNA to not be perfect and to make mistakes and to have setbacks and that’s okay. For me, I do the best I can, I still have a couple chronic conditions and I have days where I don’t feel as great. I have days where I might make a choice that isn’t the most high vibrational choice for myself but I think I’m just very clear on the fact that I’m here to help people who are really struggling. The disease rate is one in two Americans have at least one chronic health condition and so I’m not hard on myself. If I wanna indulge in something or I feel tired, I go back to the drawing board and get a great night’s sleep or have a really nourishing meal. And I walk my talk because it works and because it’s really really worked for me. And I hope that answers your question.
– Yeah, we’ll, there’s no other way to roll. It’s hard, I see a lot of people in the health space compromise their health trying to go out there and advocate for health. And it’s really hard to walk the walk, right? And we all face it. I’m out there making a movie about health while we have a baby at home, a couple of years ago. And I’m getting destroyed because I’m not sleeping. And so, it’s just the reality of the situation. But especially with your, say your diagnosis then and where you’re at now. You don’t really have that much room for error. You start screwing around, you’re gonna feel horrible pretty quickly, right? And so your health won’t let you, to a certain extent. I see a lot of people in our space get there. They’ll dip in and out of sickness while trying to advocate for health. And it’s, we’re all human, we’re all human, we’re all trying and so the choices that you make, the people you surround yourself with I think make a big difference. Where are you, where do you live?
– I live in New York.
– You live in New York.
– In the city.
– You’re in the city, yeah.
– In the city. You have to take extra good care of yourself in New York City to stay well.
– Well, it’s, yeah, listen, there’s great pizza, there’s great everything everywhere, right? And it’s nice to get out for drinks with friends. I love that town, I love that town. And the last couple times I’ve been there, I’ve gone to some delightful restaurants that have had really good organic healthy food. That has been easy. New York’s way easier to be healthy to a certain extent than Boise, right? Where you may or may not have access to certain food choices.
– Yeah, it’s hard. So for someone who right now is not feeling well and is a seeker and is trying to get the information that they need to unlock and wants to get out of the funk that they’re in, what would your message be to them?
– I think that you have to try everything and know that there’s always more to learn and that there’s always a new way to see your situation. And that the first place to start is to start feeling empowered that you are in charge of your health and wellness. And that if you’re not feeling fulfilled at a doctor you have to go back and look at the list of what you need in a doctor. Because just because somebody is the best doctor doesn’t mean that they’re the best doctor for you. And you have to start really getting in touch with yourself and your needs so that you create a health care system that works for you. And never stop learning and never stop looking for people who inspire you to think differently or think outside the box of what you know because there’s always more information and fortunately we’re living in a world that is becoming very saturated in health and well-being. It’s becoming more and more important as our world gets faster and faster. And it’s there, it’s at your fingertips, and luckily, I put everything you need to know in Kicking Sick so that you can learn from these amazing experts and healers and thought leaders about chronic conditions. So it’s all, you can start here, you can start with my book. You can start really understanding that, no matter what, when you think you’ve hit a roadblock, there’s always further to go and the situation can always be better than you think it can be. You need to start with the belief that it can be and start to really sit with that and how you wanna feel. And then find the people who can help you get there and support you. But it starts with supporting yourself.
– Well, that’s it, that decision is huge. Now you had, you’re fortunate enough to be able to get some referrals to Mark Hyman and others but there’s for those who are seeking, there’s the Institute for Functional Medicine has a practitioner database. So you just go to the Institute for Functional Medicine website and search for practitioners zipcode, geo locator. So it’s not, there are highly qualified physicians who have studied good functional medicine all over the place, all over the world. I have an international audience so I don’t wanna be US-centric here. So you gotta do research, right? And just ’cause they’re certified by some board doesn’t mean that they’re the right person for you either. So you still gotta feel ’em out.
– Totally, yeah, you have to do the research. And you have to be in charge of those decisions for yourself. I went to 30 doctors before I was 30 and I went to some of the best specialists in the whole world. But just because they were the best specialists or named that that doesn’t mean that they were the right fit for me. And finding the right doctor is really finding the right partner in your healing journey. And it’s really important that you find a good match for you and it might take trying some people out. And I tried a lot of them out so it’s definitely doable but you have to be willing to put in the work because the pay-off on the other side is always worth it.
– Well, it’s a hell of a lot more work being sick, right? And that’s the problem.
– Yeah, totally.
– It is so much work having a chronic disease and just not having enough energy to wanna do anything. So it’s a lot less work to search doctors and find solutions than it is to keep living that life and that’s really, I mean, look at you, your skin’s glowing, you’re doing great, you’ve got enthusiasm, you’re out there helping people and being the girl who was not feeling this way. I’m sure there were moments where you couldn’t see this as a reality, as a possible future for you.
– No, there were very real moments where I felt very isolated and frustrated and alone and sad and I didn’t know where to turn. And I knew that I didn’t want my life to feel that way. And it was much, if I’m being totally honest, it was much easier for me to look for other people to make decisions for me because the situation felt too overwhelming to me. And everything started to shift when I started caring about how I felt about the care I was getting and how I felt about the answers and that I decided taking a pill for pain with no explanation for what it was, wasn’t enough for me. And it starts there, with you empowering yourself, that you know yourself better than anyone.
– And there’s an interesting gem in that. Okay, so you had to decide that you were the person to do this for yourself but then you curated your A-team and your list of people to then come in with the specialties and the educations that will help you implement a plan and troubleshoot this. But you got out of the passenger seat, started driving, and then brought on experts to help you along versus go to people telling, asking them to tell you what to do.
– Right, I had to show up for myself in a really real way before I started to find the right people and make really positive long lasting change.
– Yeah, yeah, awesome. The book is called Kicking Sick by Amy Kurtz. Gorgeous good looking book.
– [Amy] Thank you.
– Yeah, you’ve got some great recommendations, you got yoga poses, a lot of great stuff in there and yeah, I think that this is wonderful. I like talking to real people who’ve run the miles and done it and can talk about the journey on the other side. So thank you, thank you for fighting through that and being the person you are now.
– Thank you so much, it’s such an honor to be with you and to be doing this show with you.
– Thank you. Let me know what you think. This is Dr. Pedram Shojai, the Urban Monk. Check out theurbanmonk.com and check out her book. I’ll see you next time.
– [Amy] Thank you.