How accepting myself freed me to become who I was meant to be

Leaine Brebner: Head of Content and Support Guru at Real Meal Revolution

This is Leaine's story. She has realised that who she is is ultimately a sum of all of her experiences. Coming face-to-face with all of you - the good and the bad is how you heal and become the best version of yourself.

As Head of Content at RMR I’ve written many articles on Banting and the intricacies of health and weight loss. I am also one of the authors of the Banting 2.0. Banting is my passion – I am hungry for knowledge and to keep learning as much as possible. This need to learn as much as possible about the body and how to heal it started almost 10 years ago when I began my journey back to health. I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride since then and Banting has helped me turn my life the right way up. That’s why I want to help others and share my story. I haven’t shared my story until now because there are parts of it I didn’t want to look at.

But, I've now realised that accepting yourself for who you are frees you to become who you were meant to be.

My story goes back to when I was born, which might sound dramatic. But as I said I only began to realise that it went all the way back there when I really started thinking deeply about my life. I like to put everything into boxes and have an answer for everything, that’s why I love researching so much.

When I was born the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, which didn’t appear to cause any damage at the time. All of my growth milestones were normal, and I started walking fine, but then I started to walk on the toes on my right foot. The doctors couldn’t really understand what happened, they assumed I had had a stroke, which left my right side semi-paralysed. They diagnosed me with something called “hemiparesis” (semi-paralysis of one side of the body). Because my Achilles tendon stopped growing I needed to have an operation to lengthen it. This happened when I was three years old. It didn’t work and I went back to walking on my toes. I had two more operations – one at six and one at nine. The one at nine finally worked, but it left me with a very underdeveloped calf due to spending so much time in plaster of paris.

I also had to learn to walk again, which was quite gruelling.

The operations and the various antibiotics I had to take, unbeknownst to me or my parents at the time, had wreaked havoc on my digestive system.

In between the second and third operation my parents also got divorced, which was quite stressful on me and I started complaining of stomach aches and I developed insomnia.

My parents took me for so many tests, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me.

So from seven years old I was already experiencing stomach problems, poor sleep and anxiety.

At the same time as the third operation, I had to move schools, leaving behind all of the friends I had made and the safe space where everyone was comfortable with the girl with a limp and squint eye (yes, I also wore glasses to correct the squint (probably also a repercussion of the stroke)).

I really didn’t think I was different at all. My family, especially my mom, always made me believe that I could do, and be anything, I set my mind to. But the kids at the new school had other ideas. They picked on the new girl that walked funny and mocked the way I walked.

This broke my heart. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted more than anything to be accepted and liked. I was always a happy, confident and bubbly child, but from that moment onwards the ideas I had about myself began to change. I suddenly started to feel ugly, like a freak, who walked funny and I just wanted to be invisible.

On the outside I still wanted to be accepted so I did everything to be part of the “cool group.” But I still always had this feeling at the back of my mind that they were just friends with me because they felt sorry for me. My confidence had taken a massive knock and I carried this feeling of inadequacy through High School (and well into adulthood), which kept being reiterated every time I wasn’t good enough to get onto a sports team, or couldn’t point my toes in ballet, or do the gymnastic moves; and every time I was rejected by a boy, didn’t get a rose for Valentine’s Day, or was left out of something for some or other reason.

The stress and anxiety got worse and I used to lie awake at night stressing over things I had no power to change. I wanted to be good at something so I focused on my school work and put so much effort into being “perfect”.

For most of my schooling I practiced being invisible – walking with my head down so no one would notice me. I became immensely shy and closed off.

I was a contradiction, I wanted to be invisible, but at the same time I wanted to be noticed, to be accepted.

Towards the end of High School I discovered that alcohol could bring out this confidence in me, that had been buried very far down, and make me feel like everything was going to be ok, and that I could actually let my hair down and not worry about every little thing. I could have fun, come up with witty lines, and be the life of the party. I was free of the depression and anger.

I started to drink a bit too much when I went out in my twenties – not knowing when to stop and just loving the attention and confidence it brought me. But, alcohol and poor gut health are not a good combination.

To be honest I couldn’t really handle the alcohol, it was poisonous to my body, but I needed to have it to make me into this awesome person I couldn’t be without it. The hangovers were terrible – some days I’d land up throwing up for the whole day (not my proudest moments at all). But, somehow I’d always forget how bad it made me feel and would only remember how awesome I thought I was when I drank.

My health began to deteriorate more and more. That coupled with the stress and anxiety, poor sleep and bad eating habits I had developed from eating far too many take-aways, resulted in a very unhappy bodily state.

Looking back now, I realise I had been living half a life, due to being so unhealthy, without even realising I was doing so. I just assumed it was normal to feel the way I was feeling, even though my list of symptoms was extensive. It’s funny how we become so conditioned to feeling a certain way and just accept that that’s the way it is.  

My Quote from Real Meal Revolution Banting 2.0: “Our bodies are a physical representation of the way we have lived our lives. Each pound of flesh has its own story to tell of the choices we have made, the habits we have developed, our likes and dislikes, the relationships we have made with those we have met along the way. The only way to feel comfortable about your body and successfully keep off lost weight is first to become aware that being overweight and chronically unhealthy is a symptom of lifestyle imbalance. It is time to balance the system.”

My symptoms included:

Extreme mood swings
Anxiety
Abdominal bloating as well as excessive stomach pain and gurgling noises in my chest and throat
Heart burn and indigestion
Water retention and unexplained weight gain
Constipation
Duodenal Ulcers and a Hiatus Hernia
Migraines
Disturbed sleep
Dizzy spells
Sinus and sore throats
Sleepiness after meals
A lack of energy
Food cravings
A feeling of being dazed and confused (brain fog)
Blurred vision
Bleeding gums
Skin rashes, redness, bumps and itching
Low libido
Terrible period pains
Brittle nails
Hair falling out and greasy

The final straw came when I experienced extreme dizzy spells in late 2009 (I was 27 years old); I went to a doctor, but he couldn’t cure my problem and wanted to prescribe anti-depressants. I eventually decided to try a homeopath, who after various eliminations and blood tests told me I had food intolerances to gluten (especially wheat), dairy, eggs, yeast, and garlic.

My life turned upside down that day because when I started reading food labels I began to realise that I couldn’t eat anything that came out of a packet or a box. If I was going to eat anything, I had to make it myself from scratch. Through this experience I learned the importance of reading food labels – I was pretty horrified in fact, at all the funny ingredients that went into our “food”.

At this point of feeling so overwhelmed I began to think there must be a lot of other people out there also struggling to come to terms with not being able to eat certain foods, so I started a blog called Leaine’s Kitchen. Here I wrote about my experiences and came up with recipes that didn’t contain gluten, dairy, eggs, yeast or garlic.

I did extensive research, wrote articles, experimented for hours on end, and forced my friends to be my guinea pigs.

Just by cutting out those ingredients in the first month I lost 6kgs, my stomach became flatter (I had less bloating), I started to feel a lot happier, went to the loo regularly, my sleep improved and I stopped feeling dazed and confused.

Back then, it wasn’t an easy task to eat out at restaurants, if you had allergies or intolerances. Trying to explain what I wanted to eat became a five day game, because I would forget to mention no basting on my steak or no dressing on my salad, and landed up sending my food back more often than not. My friends, I’m sure, dreaded going out with me, which brought back my insecurities of not being liked. So, I was faced with a choice, stay at home or just not be strict when going out and suffer the consequences (in other words fall back into my old patterns). I still wanted a social life, so I chose the latter, which became a bit of a downward spiral as one cheat lead to another, and one compromise led to another until eventually I was not healing myself.

I landed up at a natural healer who summed up my health woes in one word – Candida. Candida is a yeast infection. The organism Candida Albicans is already present in our bodies, such as the mouth and gut, in order for us to function correctly. Factors such as stress, poor diet, a compromised immune system, extended use of antibiotics, alcohol and birth control pills can cause it to grow out of control. I ticked all of those boxes.

In my case, the Candida was the worst he had seen. It was in every organ of my body and he said that if I continued the way I was going, I might not be able to fall pregnant. And thus started my new blog, and my new food journey, Sweet Like Candida.

This blog was just focused on eliminating gluten and sugar – and I thought how amazing it was to be able to bake with eggs and dairy again.

But, even though I now had a new eating plan, I wasn’t feeling healthy and I still wasn’t losing the fat roll around my middle – a sure fire sign that I was insulin resistant.

Around this time, my step mom found out that she had Type 2 Diabetes. Her health journey led her to Tim Noakes, The Real Meal Revolution and Banting, which in a nut shell is about eating real food and avoiding anything processed and ready-made. In an ironic twist of fate, it seemed like my food journey had come full circle.

I devoured the Real Meal Revolution book from cover to cover and became excited when it mentioned reversing Candida, which had by now become my life’s mission.

When I learned about the phenomenon of hidden carbs in foods, it was like a light bulb went on in my head; it made complete sense to me, because although I wasn’t eating gluten or sugar, per se, I was still eating rice and potatoes and some fruits and vegetables, which all, because of their hidden carbs, converted into sugar in the body, fueling my Candida.

The book made me feel like someone understood where I was coming from, and how I still absolutely needed my food to taste delicious and that I didn’t want to feel deprived because I was eliminating certain things from my diet.

The huge amount of fat did cause me to panic at first because all my life I had been taught that fat was bad and unhealthy (and dairy especially). But, with the constant repetition from my step mom that fats are good and carbs and hidden carbs are the enemy, my mind began to shift as I tested it out and began to see the results in myself.

I no longer experienced the yo-yo effect with my weight – losing it and then putting it back on. The bloating stopped and so did the mind fog and mood swings. I had so much energy, with no more tired slumps or lethargy. I was happier than I had felt in forever and I just wanted to share my good fortune with the world, and so began my new task, with my new business – Sweet Like Candi, a baking business that focused on grain-free, sugar-free baking.

Remarkably, I cured my Candida through Banting. And Sweet Like Candi led me to Real Meal Revolution.

I met Jonno in 2014, randomly, at my first market, where he was marketing the Real Meal Revolution and our paths kept crossing until one fortuitous day resulted in me working at the Real Meal Revolution as Head of Content (I phoned him up asking for a reference for another job, but he said I should come in for an interview). My Copywriting and Marketing background, together with my knowledge of creating recipes that work around intolerances, especially eliminating grain and sugar, and my passion for helping people made me a perfect fit.

With my role as Head of Content, I immersed myself full-on into a world of research. I was researching to understand the human body to solve my problems once and for all, but I was also researching to help others.

My greatest passion in life is to help people and I know at Real Meal Revolution I’m at exactly the right place to do that.

I really do understand that you are what you eat and how you treat your body is a reflection of your mental and emotional state. In my experience, hearing/reading a personal story can put you at ease and make you feel less alone.

What I’ve learnt through my transformation is that my mind is my most powerful weapon. When you have the determination to succeed, you will not only succeed, but you will smash all of your expectations.

I’m now focusing on strengthening my right side. After working up the courage for many years, I’m finally comfortable with admitting I have a weak right side. My strength training has made me realise that my body is a machine, that I previously underestimated, and is capable of healing and becoming stronger. I want nothing more than to help people understand that they can overcome anything in life to become the best versions of themselves.

Today, I understand that I am not different, I am unique in the best possible way. All my experiences have made me who I am. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved with my life. My work at Real Meal Revolution brings me great joy as each day, through our Online Program, I help people find the greatness within themselves. I look forward to helping you on your Road to Awesome.

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