A chronic, or long-lasting, disease that causes inflammation—irritation or swelling—in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Most commonly, Crohn’s affects the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. However, the disease can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus.
Having struggled for 10 years with digestive disorders, Brandi Mackenzie, a certified natural chef from Bauman College: Holistic Nutrition & Culinary Arts, took healing into her own hands after receiving a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. Integrating health-supportive culinary techniques with transformational nutrition coaching, Brandi now runs a therapeutic business that helps people heal gut imbalance through customized programs. Here, she recounts how she refined her program from her own journey with Crohn’s disease as well as how, after two years, her autoimmune disorder is in remission, and she has no inflammatory markers for the disease.
An Interview with Brandi Mackenzie
AOC: Let’s talk big picture of this disease. What are the conventional challenges with treating Crohn’s?
BM: Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system. It can technically be anywhere “between mouth and anus,” meaning it is not a straightforward disease to target. You need to sort out where it is affecting you, how and what your symptoms are, and what is a byproduct of the inflammatory response or autoimmune response in the body. Just like any disease or condition, your whole body responds. Something overlooked in today’s medical system is that every single body is different. In my experience, you have to really be willing to listen to your own body in order to figure out how to get better in the long term.
AOC: Based on your work at Bauman College, what insight did holistic nutrition offer you in terms of how to address Crohn’s?
BM: Several months prior to my Crohn’s diagnosis, I was told that I had leaky gut syndrome. My symptoms were primarily digestive, so I knew in order to make any progress on my symptoms, I needed to focus on healing my digestive system first.
A doctor I was working with instructed me to do a gut-healing cleanse. This is similar to what is now called the “Autoimmune Protocol,” a diet that focuses on gut health and supports balanced immunity. At the time, this was suggested to me, though, there was far less mainstream information about this protocol. The suggestions were to eliminate grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs, nightshades, sweeteners, coffee, chocolate, alcohol and most high-glycemic foods. Surprisingly, I was not daunted by this task at all. I knew without doubt I was capable of following these directions because of my culinary training from Bauman College. My education showed me how to prepare really tasty food under these kinds of “restrictions” without feeling deprived. I became really specialized in modifying meals for myself and boosting nutrients with a variety of foods. Having graduated from Bauman’s Natural Chef Training Program, I learned about ingredients I had never used before. This gave me the opportunity to incorporate more healthful foods and offered more variety and more flavor, which is such an important thing when you’re told to “take out” many staple foods.
Though I did the initial cleanse with the help of my doctor, I needed longer-term support to completely heal my digestive system. While some leaky gut symptoms diminished after the initial cleanse, after living a few months abroad, I returned to feeling worse than ever. I had contracted several gut infections on my travels, and this was actually how I discovered my diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. I went back to the cleanse approach suggested by my doctor, but was not feeling any better. It was suggested that I eliminate even more foods. I knew instinctively that wasn’t the solution to my problem. That’s when I decided to take my healing into my own hands and develop a deep-healing approach based on my own education and the signals my body was giving me.
I worked with more holistic doctors and discovered that my symptoms were primarily in my small intestines. As described earlier, Crohn’s can occur anywhere in the digestive system, so this was an important discovery. Once I knew where my illness was located, I knew how to target it more effectively. I used diet, herbal supplementation, and other holistic treatments to find balance and health in my gut. Once my gut began healing, so many other things changed for me. Things I didn’t even notice were “wrong” started to get better. My skin was more clear, my brain worked all the time, neck pain from an old injury was significantly reduced, I slept well, I woke up bright and cheery, I got more done in my days, was more motivated, and I was able to connect more to my true self and trust myself more.
While the guidance I was given to “cleanse” my gut was a great foundation, I needed more. Each time I completed the cleanse process, I ended up reintroducing many of those foods again after a few weeks off of them. What I learned most from that experience was that I needed to customize a diet for myself to live well and heal over time. I couldn’t only do what someone told me to do; I had to take control of my own health for me and get really clear on what it was that I needed. That meant instead of undergoing temporary diet changes, I needed a long-term plan. That plan would need to be adaptable to what life handed me on any given day. I had to listen to my body and feel into what that meant day-by-day. A huge part of this process included introspective work.
Taking what I learned at Bauman College, what I learned from my doctors, and much of the now readily available science I could find, I also became certified as a transformational nutrition coach. My coaching program focused on the science, psychology, and spirituality of healing, and that is what I continue to use as my healing trifecta today. I continued to heal by really listening to what my body was telling me and by spending a lot of time on self care. Ultimately, I was able to make better choices for myself and take better care of myself overall. Just two years after my diagnosis, I was free of my autoimmune condition!
AOC: What didn’t you expect would happen that did to your amazement, and what do you attribute it to?
BM: As mentioned above, a lot of things I didn’t realize were “wrong” began to improve. My moods were much brighter and more balanced, meaning no more crashes and far less irritability, I felt more connected to my body, my sleep was great, my energy was heightened, and my life was happier overall. My brain worked more effectively, I could learn more easily, my thoughts were clear, and my intuition, or what I call inner wisdom, came through very clearly. These were the biggest changes for me beyond the digestive balance. Being connected to my inner wisdom gave me so much confidence to make the right choices for my life. I no longer felt like the “weird,” “high-maintenance,” or “pain in the butt” person I thought I was. I just took care of me when most everyone around wasn’t willing to make that choice. It was not easy, but I did it!
I attribute this to three things: diet, detoxification, and desire.
I had to clean up my diet and get my gut health in order. Once I did, I had a solid foundation in my gut. The gut rules your immunity, mood, and “gut instinct,” so all of these things showed up very clearly for me as my diet became clean and nutrient-dense. I was finally able to absorb nutrients by healing my leaky gut. I found what foods most nourished me, and I ate them. They changed over time, but now I know what I can and cannot eat if I want to feel amazing.
I had to detoxify my body from all that caused harm including gut infections and foods that irritated and caused digestive and systemic inflammation. When I cut out inflammatory foods, I found my inner wisdom showed up more clearly. It was really remarkable! I also had to let go of “shoulds,” negative thoughts, and other people’s expectations. There can be a lot of toxic energy in the world, so I made a conscious decision to let that go and focus on my own choices.
When I tapped into my true desire to heal, there was no stopping me! Without that desire, nothing would have changed. My passion to take my health in my own hands made the biggest difference, as well as being willing to continually choose my health day after day no matter the circumstance.
AOC: How are you carrying this message of health and healing forward? Where could someone start if they face these challenges right now?
BM: I have my own business as a coach and chef, and I teach people about how to live their best lives by healing their digestive systems as the foundation.
I took everything I learned during my intense healing process and created an attainable system to help others sort out what’s perfect for them so that they can have their own healing practice. In the long term, you can’t do what someone else says and expect it will feel awesome to you. Your body changes, and you have to know how to adapt. I want people to learn exactly what they need, right now, and know how to adjust as their body and life changes.
My healing system empowers you to listen to your own body, in all of it’s wisdom, and do what you need to do in order to feel better. It is based on my own discovery of using diet, detox and desire. I believe in this approach so much that I am currently writing a book about it. I have seen over and over again that diet, detox and desire can come together to help you feel more energized, more confident, and more tuned-in to you!
If someone is facing struggles of digestive dysfunction, overwhelm, disconnection, or not knowing where to begin, I really believe that you can make drastic change by focusing on gut health. I suggest an elimination diet, learning to cook for yourself so you can be in control of what is going into your body during the healing phase, and finding a great support team. Whether it’s a doctor, nutrition practitioner, coach, therapist, or all of the above, I believe we need support to heal. A team can be of great emotional and foundational support. They can offer a different kind of expertise, including feedback and suggestions to get you on the right track. They can also encourage you to do things you might not try on your own, or guide you through those processes. But I also believe that we must learn to trust ourselves and know that the deepest answers to healing are within us.
I offer a 6-week program that is a great entry point to get your gut on track. It includes a 21-day elimination diet and realistic ways to apply holistic living while you travel, celebrate, and enjoy life! The healing system used in my program supports you in finding what truly nourishes you and helps you let go of everything that doesn’t. It helps you to find confidence in trusting yourself so you can ditch someone else’s food rules and make your own! I am super passionate about what I do, and I love being able to help others change their lives.
|Brandi Mackenzie is an educator, coach, and chef. She leads 6-week group programs called “Heal Your Gut & Change Your Life” that take participants through a guided 21-day elimination diet with meal plans and recipes, audio guides, reflective exercises, custom yoga videos, and more to address digestive dysfunction and live healthier, more vibrant lives.|