My name is Sarah Kay Hoffman – A Gutsy Girl – and this is my story.
I haven’t always been this way.
I sort of fell into it.
By the way, if you would rather listen to my story via podcast, check out Episode 1 of the A Gutsy Girl podcast HERE.
I grew up in a small town in southern Minnesota, about an hour from the Iowa border. I had an amazing childhood and a family (mother, father and brother) that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Physically, there is nothing major that stands out to me from my early childhood, except for the fact that I was always tired. I was the child who would be sleeping on the couch at family gatherings (I have a huge extended family – mostly boys – which rocks by the way) while the rest of the cousins were running around into the wee hours. My Godfather, Jack, used to always say, “Sleepin’ again?!”
In junior high I was a gymnast; in high school an ice hockey goalie. I was good, not great, at both. Back then, I ran a 14-minute mile. I enjoyed “sport,” but being physically active was a chore. It always drained me of my energy too much, and thus, I was never highly athletic.
Looking back, a lot of my story started in high school, though I’d never be able to see and acknowledge it until much later in life.
Listen, this is a long story, so you might want to grab some coffee or bone broth before we continue on 🙂
Once college came, things took a sharp turn and headed south. Early in my freshman year, I got very ill. I got the flu and tonsillitis so badly that I was out for nearly two weeks, unable to get myself to the doctor, answer Mother’s calls or anything. I eventually found myself in urgent care, took a round of antibiotics and life continued on.
At this point in my life, the vicious cycle really began. That first year of college I lived alone in a dorm room. In hindsight, I am so thankful for that. I struggled for the first major time in my life with digestive issues. Most days, my dorm room would smell of rotten eggs so badly that even I became depressed living in it. I would alternate between bloat/gas and everything running straight through me. I also gained 10-15 pounds that year, and I struggled with a whole host of other things (physically and emotionally).
After my freshman year, I went home for the summer and went on Weight Watchers (but by this time, I was no stranger to disordered eating). I was eating low calorie, low-fat foods like they were going out of style.
I was sure I had found my “cure.”
After all, I lost all the weight I had gained, and I returned to my sophomore year of college hearing, “Wow, you’re so skinny.”
Throughout my sophomore and junior years of college, I continued on the yo-yo road and an unhealthy lifestyle. Simultaneously, my gut began getting worse. I was sick more and more often with tonsillitis, pharyngitis or strep throat chronically during my junior year. I was always at the hospital and was, literally, on antibiotics every single month. The doctors decided a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy was necessary.
By the time my tonsils and adenoids came out (the summer before my senior year of college), they were rotted. The surgeon told my mom that there were so many scars and infections that I barely had either one of them anymore. It took me awhile to recover, but once I did, I was sure I had found my “cure.”
Turns out that just because you fix one thing, doesn’t mean the underlying issues go away. In fact, in many ways I got worse.
It was only a couple weeks after my surgery when I drove back to Minneapolis to live a new “healthier lifestyle.” On the drive up, I noticed my tongue started feeling off. I called my mom and told her, “It feels like something is pulling my tongue and scraping it against my teeth.”
I began to see doctors and more doctors for this newly-developed mouth problem. They had no idea since everything looked completely normal. Without having any clue, they put me on Nystatin, which is an antibiotic to clear thrush. It didn’t get better. In fact, it got worse – much worse. Several months later, while at the dentist, he mentioned,
Perhaps you simply have an intolerance to food.
I gave up hope that any doctor or dentist could help my mouth.
And yet, I never forgot what that dentist said.
That dentist changed my world. And yet still, old habits die hard.
Life continued. My senior year of college ended. I was offered a job right out of college with a division of News Corporation in Los Angeles, California. I moved in August of 2005.
At this point, my tonsils and adenoids were gone, but I was a mess. I was stressed 24/7, and broke. I missed home; hated LA (so many people can’t understand this, but it’s true – hated it). I ate. And then I didn’t eat. I worked out. And then I didn’t work out. I was miserable in my corporate suit and nylon hose each day. My stomach pain was horrendous. Sometimes the bathroom wasn’t close enough; other times I could only wish a bathroom break would hit. All along, my mouth was on fire; even talking was a chore.
But all of this, I never let anyone see. Maybe I was embarrassed or maybe I thought it was normal; I’m not really sure.
I “met” Ryan (my husband) in December of 2005, and moved back to Minnesota in 2006. I struggled all along, but was happy by then so fixing myself didn’t seem as imminent any longer. Later in life (at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition) I would learn that healthy relationships like the one I had found with Ryan can make all the difference in healing or a lack thereof.
Early in our relationship
I decided to start taking some sort of action for me. Something in me provoked a 21-day detox in January of 2007. From January 1 – January 21, I did the first “detox” I had ever done in my life.
- On days 1- 18, I was on autopilot.
- Day 19, I felt worse than ever before.
- On day 21, every single “problem” I ever had was gone.
- Then, on day 22, post detox, I went back to my “old life.”
- On day 23, I was back to misery.
I knew then that there must be more to everything going on inside my body.
A few short months after that, Ryan found out that his job would move him to Northern California. He asked me to go with him, and for me, there was no other option, and together we went.
Almost as soon as we moved, I began digging into the mess that was, and I started a journey that would actually begin to change my life. (Because of this, California changed my life forever.)
2007 through 2009
In the beginning, I:
- saw an allergist who confirmed via scratch tests that I was not “allergic” to anything
- attempted to work with that allergist on food intolerance, but was unsuccessful because she had no clue on elimination diets
- went to a GI specialist who ordered an endoscopy and colonoscopy
- through the colonoscopy, it was determined that I have Proctitis, which is a form of Colitis that affects the lowest part of the colon -> the rectum
- took the GI’s advice that “food didn’t matter,” but suppositories and medication would help
- quickly realized that suppositories and medication didn’t help, in fact, they made me worse so I QUIT all Colitis suppositories forever
In 2009, I found a nutritionist and I worked with her for several months. She gave me a lot of great tips, thoughts, and ideas, but my stomach was still a mess. After a few months of working with her, I stumbled upon the GAPS Diet. I brought it to her attention. She said it made sense, so we completely changed our direction.
Finally, it was the direction that would begin my real healing journey forever. (I stopped working with her shortly after because I was rapidly healing and she was moving.)
My world got turned upside down at that point. I became obsessed with healing myself via food and lifestyle vs. drugs and medication.
I became obsessed with the gut and the entire digestive system, along with knowing everything possible so I could heal myself for good this time.
2010 – 2012
I had another endoscopy in late spring of 2010. I was not really consuming gluten at the time and even still, the endoscopy showed that I still had inflammation in my upper digestive system. This told me that it wasn’t just the Colitis and lowest part affected, but everything. It scared me, so I got even more serious.
On June 20, 2010, I gave up gluten for good.
In 2011, I began studying at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I already knew so much about the digestive system, but I didn’t know enough about how the “lifestyle” component could help (or hurt) me. I was confident that a holistic school would show me the path.
And it did.
I graduated from the school in 2012 and began a Health Coaching business (and a damn good one at that -> I know what I’m talking about and I am the face of everyone I work with, not just another nutritionist, doctor or blogger spewing information they once heard).
In July of 2013, I embraced 101 days of intense gut healing.
I progressed like never before…..until late 2013 when our first baby arrived.
She was the greatest blessing in our lives. After a bumpy, lumpy infertility road, she made our lives complete, filling it with love and hope and all that is beautiful in this world.
But because she was a Preemie, and because we were totally unprepared, my health suffered. I spent the better portion of her first year with us running on 3-4 hours of sleep, caffeine and high stress.
Ultimately, I reversed most of the progress I had made.
In late 2014, I put my foot down because I reached the point where I was the worst I had maybe ever been in my entire life. I have my face to prove it.
Dr. Schweig from The California Institute for Functional Medicine was highly recommended, so I drove over 2 hours that first visit to see him.
He could tell something was very off. We went through all the testing, and within a short amount of time, I was diagnosed with a sluggish thyroid, severe adrenal fatigue, and advanced SIBO.
From that moment on, my life began to change (yet again, health wise) in brand new ways, and I got a new lease on life.
2014-2018 proved to be long and intense, deep and explorative years. The years have been very well documented on agutsygirl.com, so go explore! In a nutshell:
- finalized three adoptions in three years
- had three SIBO relapses
- studied, researched, and devoted every last extra second to answering the question, “What is gut health and healing?!”
- moved across the country back to our small hometown in Southern Minnesota after 11 years in Northern California
At the end of 2018, it all became very clear. There was a key hidden to a door I’d been waiting to open for years; I began to slowly unlock it. It was then that I realized, “Heal your gut. Heal your life.”
(These years will also go more into depth when my full book comes out someday – see below.)
Today I am committed to you via A Gutsy Girl, and I am able to do this because I am free from almost all the things that plagued me for years.
I no longer follow (because I don’t need to follow) any specific diet or rules. Breaking free from all of it, including disordered eating, has been so freeing.
I am still gluten free-ish – during the summer of 2018, my husband and I went to see Ceci in Italy.
While in Italy, I had all the gluten (obv), and came back still thriving. On the day-to-day, I don’t eat gluten, but I also don’t claim or identify with Paleo, GAPS, Low FODMAP, AIP protocol or anything else (even though I help you navigate those lifestyles daily).
These days, though, I will admit I’m far more Vegetarian than ever before. If you want the truth, I am so grateful for that because there were years when I thought I had to survive on just meat, fat, and broth. (Spoiler alert: you don’t.)
I feed my body (and my family) with real food, whatever that means, and I make it delicious.
It has been a very long journey, and I know I’m in it for the long haul.
It is my PASSION, my OBSESSION to spread every single little bit of knowledge I have and have lived to women and people everywhere. With that, I finally released the number 1 tool that helped me along my journey, the 90-day gut healing journal.
If I can cut misery out of someone’s life in a fraction of the time it took me to finally get it, then this journey certainly has been worth it.
I am going to be brave forever, and just as soon as there is a book publisher who will let me tell my full, real and raw story, I will.
Mark my word.
For now, stick with me here on A Gutsy Girl. I’m about to show you how to….
Heal your gut. Heal your life.