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Katrina Love Senn was once 60 pounds overweight. She suffered with asthma, eczema, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and thyroid issues, among other chronic diseases. When her body collapsed 15 years, ago her doctors wanted to prescribe “experimental prescription medicine.” Her intuition guided her to say no to the medication. Acting on this intuition, she refused the doctors’ medicine and instead went on her own healing journey. Katrina now lives 100 percent free of asthma and all her previous symptoms.
Here is a bit of her story.
What was the breaking point that made you want to make such significant changes to your health and life?
My asthma originally st
arted when I was six years old with my first asthma attack, the result of a severe allergic reaction to animals. Over the years, I was put on all different types of inhalers and medications. As I got older, the drugs and inhalers got stronger.
From a young age, I suffered with not only asthma, but also allergies, eczema and other health problems. As a child, I was “in and out” of different doctors’ offices with my asthma, seeking information to improve my breathing and stop my asthma attacks. I thought my body was my enemy.
This caused me to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
From my early teens, I was always trying to lose weight or go on the next diet, but the problem was I loved food about as much as I hated exercise. I was the sort of person who found it was really easy to gain weight and really hard to lose it. So, in an effort to lose weight, I started dieting.
For me, dieting was always about taking away my favorite foods; it was always about restrictions. Diets worked for a few days until I would get stressed, hungry, emotional or just be like, “Screw it,” and tell myself that the diet would begin again on Monday.
My breaking point came just days before my 20th birthday. When I was just 19 years of age, I was at a conference in Australia. On the day I was supposed to speak, I woke up in the morning and I could not even open my eyes or move my body. I had zero energy. The doctors came to see me and immediately put me on the next plane back home, to New Zealand.
It was at this point that I knew that I had to start doing things differently. I realized that I needed to make significant changes to my health and my life. My mind had been running the show up to that point.
When my body collapsed, it served as a very painful wake-up call. At the time, I would have told you it was my breakdown moment, but with the benefit of hindsight, I feel fortunate that it was able to serve as my real “breakthrough” moment.
How did you go from unhealthy habits to learning healthy habits?
My doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. They wanted to put me on experimental medication. After all these years of struggling with medication for my asthma, I had the feeling that my body was trying to tell me something — it seemed obvious that more drugs were not the answer.
From there, I started asking myself, “If I am not going to take the experimental medicine, then what else could I possibly do?’” I talked to my mom and she was really supportive about helping me to go more of a natural route to heal my body. I started reading about nutrition and the importance of vitamins and minerals for the body and our health, and the role they play in creating energy naturally. These were things I had never even thought about. From there, my research took me to different natural health practitioners, including homeopaths, iridologists and reflexologists, but it was not until I met a naturopath who explained to me that food can be used to help the body and food can be used to harm the body that I saw a much bigger picture. She gave me the hope that I could heal my body from within.
Was food the primary mechanism you used to heal yourself?
Yes. I have come to understand that healing ourselves is possible. I like to break the healing journey into three distinct parts: healing your body, healing your mind and healing your emotions.
Food is certainly a powerful healing tool and it was one that I used to physically heal myself. However, always remember that the conversation around healing is much bigger than just food. But when you are just starting on your healing journey, know that food is a great place to start. It has the ability to make a huge difference to your energy levels, especially when you turn your attention toward eating whole foods. When you do this, you allow healing to happen naturally. I started my healing journey by focusing only on healing my body, but then, a few short years later, I went on to address the mental and emotional aspects of healing, or what I call the “inner world.”
I realized that to heal myself 100 percent, I also needed to look within and heal my “inner world” of thoughts and feelings as well. What this meant for me in practice was that for me to really heal, I also needed to give myself permission to let go of my identity of being an asthmatic. With this awareness and shift in consciousness, I realized how much I had been holding myself back from life, because literally (for whatever reason) I couldn’t or wouldn’t breathe life in. I realized that I had been suppressing my feelings, such as my fear, my frustration and my sadness.
As I became more conscious of how my internal world was affecting my ability to breathe, I started to make different distinctions along the way.
As you are going on this healing journey, are you thinking, “I am going to do this particular thing to
cure asthma and this other thing to cure Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and this other thing to lose weight,” or was it a one approach healing that in the end healed everything?
At this stage in my journey, I was so sick that I had had to quit university for a few months. My body had completely collapsed, and I was bed-ridden, sleeping for up to 20 hours a day. My mom was spoon-feeding me soup. In those long, uncomfortable weeks, I remember just wanting to get some energy back in my body again.
What I did learn is that as I started to eat the right kind of foods, all my different types of “diseases,” or symptoms labeled as disease, were finally able to start healing as well. My naturopath explained to me that my body was particularly sensitive. When you are sensitive, you react easily to stress and stressful environments. In addition, certain kinds of foods stress the physical body. As I started to detoxify my body by eating a mainly whole-foods diet (i.e., no processed foods, dairy, wheat or refined sugars) combined with liver-supporting supplements and adaptogenics, or calming herbs, my energy started to return. I learned what foods were stimulating and aggravating to my body, and I made the transition to eating foods that were nourishing and healing for my body. Now I can eat anything in moderation. But I first had to allow my body time to heal. This allowed my body to come back into balance naturally.
When you (or your body) are stressed, you go into the “fight or flight” state and everything becomes more alert, much more heightened. The body is always, always trying to talk to us, and we need to learn to listen to it if we are to stay healthy.
Do you believe the diet you were on would help anyone with asthma?
Everyone is unique, but if you have asthma or any health problem it is important to know that food is either healing or hurting your body. Certain foods heal whilst certain foods harm your body. You need to find out which foods do what for your body. The thing that is so wonderful about our world today is that so much information is at the tip of our fingers. But even with so much information available on the topic of healing, for many people, knowing “what to eat” can be one of the most challenging things to figure out. We all have different ideas around it — around what is healthy and what is not. What you should eat and what you should not. It is important to break through the dogma and also question the advertising and marketing claims you hear or see. If you are not sure what to believe, a good trick is to “follow the money.” By that, I mean find out who is telling you that you should eat a certain type of food. If they are likely to financially gain from your buying and eating that product, then research it more. Find healthy food brands that you can trust, read labels and make sure you can pronounce all the words on the label. Chances are that if you can’t, you probably don’t want to eat it.
One of the things that I learned when I first started learning about food was about the nightshade family – eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes — any of these foods really increased my sensitivity to asthma, and it was only through experimenting and seeing what would happen by not eating them and seeing what would happen when I did eat them that I was able to see how these different foods were affecting me.
When you take a healing approach, you are taking the time to learn about yourself and to educate yourself about what is right for you. This is about taking responsibility for your health as well as your life. We live in a quick-fix world, and it is easy to want to look for the quick fix. What I have found is that in the long-term, it is much more effective to take a sustainable approach to your health. Just take baby steps, and over time, the unhealthy patterns replace the healthy ones. If you build a house on a solid foundation, it will stand strong for years.
When you are on a healing journey, there will come a point where you will never need to worry about asthma or any kind of chronic disease ever again. Even if I had the symptoms now, I could look within and think, “What healing tools do I need to draw upon to bring myself back into balance?”
On your website you mention dehydration played a role in your asthma.
I think many people think if you drink a lot of water it will solve a lot of problems, but when the body is toxic — and we live in a world with high toxicity — we may not even be able to absorb the water. You need to detoxify the body by eating whole foods and maybe doing a cleanse, so that the body can start to absorb water easily and naturally. When I was living on coffee and processed foods, I could not hear my body’s cry or request for water. As I started to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole foods, I became much more conscious of when my body was thirsty and how much water I needed to drink.
To be honest, in the beginning of my journey, I did not really like drinking plain water. My body was very used to sugar. So, one thing I would do is add things into my glass of water to try and give it some interesting tastes and flavors. I added in extras such as cucumber, mint, pineapple pieces or freshly squeezed lemon juice. Spicing up water to make it more interesting definitely helped me drink it more. I had a two-liter bottle filled with water on my desk, which also made it easy to remember to drink lots of water throughout the day.
How did you know there was a connection between dehydration and your asthma?
To be honest, I can’t remember. I think as I started to educate myself about food, I realized that my body needed water to cleanse and purify itself. Asthma or any chronic disease is a buildup of internal toxicity that is foreign to the body. Drinking water can help your body to detoxify naturally, so as the body begins to detoxify naturally, all the symptoms of asthma such as the wheeziness, the excess phlegm and mucous, the gasping for air and the difficulty in breathing can release as well.
How much water were you drinking?
Before I went on my healing journey, I was not drinking a lot of water — maybe just a couple of glasses a day. But the funny thing was that I don’t remember feeling particularly thirsty. This is probably because when anyone is living on a highly processed diet, as I was, and is having a lot of stimulants throughout the day, the body is not able to register thirst very well. In those days, my body was mainly fueled by coffee and sugar. There are a lot of great books on the power of water to help aid the healing process. I urge people who are suffering with any form of chronic disease to include water as a part of their healing journey.
How long did it take until you did not need to use your inhaler?
My health crisis happened in 1997, and it took a couple of years of healing to stop using my inhaler, to completely heal my asthma and lose 60 pounds at the same time. The last time I used my inhaler was around 1999 or 2000.
I remember a great moment at the end of 2002: I went on an Outward Bound outdoor leadership course. I had to have a doctor’s certification to do it. I had not been to a doctor in years. During my visit, the doctor had me blow into a peak flow meter to measure the speed of air I could exhale from my lungs. He took other tests, and at the end of my visit said to me, “I am happy to tell you, you are 100 percent free of asthma.”
Did exercise help with your asthma?
To be honest, I don’t really think it played a big part. I didn’t like running when I was younger, and I don’t like it today. I like walking or hiking. It is important to move your body gently, but break free of the mindset of “burning calories” or “you have to do cardio” to get results. In fact, cardio stresses out your adrenal glands, which when functioning normally, produce a number of hormones that support our growth, ability to handle stress and kidney functions. So if you are already feeling emotionally stressed or exhausted, doing stressful exercise could compound the strain on your body.
Be gentle with yourself and move your body gently. Stretch and breathe. Then smile. Have fun and do things that you love. Remember that life is short. Go after your dreams.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to cure or heal asthma?
There are so many things that you can start to do today to feel better and heal your asthma.
One, eat a healing diet that is right for your body. In my book, Losing Weight Is a Healing Journey, I speak about stimulants such as fast food, coffee and sugar as being artificial energy sources. They fill you up, they look like food but yet your body doesn’t recognize them as food.
Two, detoxify your body so that you can eliminate foods that are aggravating your body and replace them with foods that can heal you and your body. Eating in this way is easy. For me, it is all about food freedom. I call this “substitution not deprivation.” If you want to eat ice cream, find a non-dairy ice cream. Instead of processed cow’s milk, substitute it for organic non-dairy milk instead. Also, experiment with replacing any vegetables in the nightshade family [with those that are not]
Three, have as much of a clean green diet as you can and by that I mean eating lots of green real, whole foods that are easy on the digestion.Green foods from vegetables & super foods such as chlorella, spirulina, barley grass and wheatgrass. I include green foods in my salads, soups, smoothies and stews. I always encourage people to aim for 50 percent green foods on their plate each meal.
Four, hydrate as much as you can. When you are properly hydrated, the body is not going to be craving the stimulants and the refined processed foods.
Five, understand that food cravings equal nutritional hunger. We have not talked about supplements, but it is good to find really good supplements. I found I was really deficient in vitamins B and C, as well as magnesium. When you are on a junk-food diet, you are really going to be depleted. When you drink a lot of alcohol, your liver can be weakened as well. You want to deal with the root cause of the symptoms you are having.
In the medical world, we are used to putting a Band-Aid over the problem to mask the symptoms. By contrast, with the healing approach, we look at what is causing the symptoms and how can we go about healing the root cause of the problem. True healing can only happen from within when you begin to detoxify your body and start eating, drinking, thinking and doing things that are nourishing for you and your life.
Could you talk about how you changed your mindset and identity in association with asthma?
In a funny kind of way, having asthma served me. What I mean by that is that quite often, my asthma gave me the excuses I needed to get out of doing the things I didn’t want to do. I used “having asthma” as a reason to get out of P.E. classes at school and to not to have to participate in swimming classes, sports days, running competitions and other school sporting events. I came to rely on my asthma as a crutch.
It was only when I started to heal my body that I realized a lot of those crutches were not necessary any longer. They had helped me when I was younger, but then I realized I didn’t need them anymore. As I started to heal, I gave myself the opportunity to learn how to have the confidence to communicate my needs, whereas before I would not have the confidence to express myself or allow myself to be heard. In many ways, for whatever reason, I did not feel safe to be me. But as I got more confident and got to connect with other like-minded people, I realized it was OK to be me.
As this happened, my world started to expand and I found within me the confidence I had been looking for all along. This allowed me to start connecting with my spiritual, creative and artistic self. What I have realized is that my sensitivity is my gift. Today it is my sensitivity that enables me to do work that I love. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to teach, heal, write or speak in the way that I do.
After you have changed your diet to a supportive and healing one, you can work on identifying and releasing the mental/emotional aspects of being an asthmatic. I remember — even after I had not had asthma for many months — the fear and panic at the thought of going away without taking my inhaler, and still looking for the courage to leave home without it.
Do you have any ideas on the root cause of your asthma?
No, I really have no idea. It may have been about being different in my family. Or it may have been about being noticed in my family, because my asthma did bring me a lot of attention (not consciously of course). A part of the healing process was about learning how to get attention in positive ways and realizing I did not “need my asthma” to get attention, as I was able to attract it in more empowering ways.
Anything else you would like to add?
If you have asthma today, just know that it is totally possible to heal it. The guru lives within. It is great to hear other people’s stories of success. Fill your mind with them. Have fun in your life and do whatever it takes to get yourself connected and inspired to follow your dreams. Come on a yoga retreat with me!
Just remember that whatever you want to do, you can do it. No matter what and no matter how many specialists and doctors tell you otherwise. Just know that you can do it. If you keep looking, you will find the answers. Life is a journey; when you realize that, all the things we struggle with are only here to help us to break through to deeper levels of understanding. On the other side is freedom, and it’s an amazing feeling. You deserve that feeling.
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More about Katrina: www.katrinalovesenn.com