Inspired Living with Autoimmunity
[00:00:00] Kara Wada, MD: Welcome back everyone, and welcome to our new listeners. I am excited to welcome you to the Becoming Immune Confident Podcast, Dr. Kara here. And as I love introducing you to other folks in our community, and I recently was able to meet and speak with Julie Michelson on her podcast, and we had such a great conversation that we're continuing it.
So Julie Michelson is a national board certified functional medicine health coach, bestselling author, international speaker, and the host of the Inspired Living with Autoimmunity podcast. She is the founder of Julie Michelson Coaching and the co-founder of Navigate Wellness.
Through her journey of overcoming more than a decade of decline with rheumatoid arthritis, she became passionate about functional medicine and using lifestyle to create healing. Julie is an expert in supporting others to achieve the changes necessary to experience true wellness. Thank you so much for joining me today, Julie, and I would love to hear how you ended up doing the work that you're doing.
[00:01:11] Julie Michelson: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here and to get to chat with you again. I was like so many of us in this space, it was my own wellness journey that brought me to functional medicine. I was in my early thirties, a newly single mom, had recently moved and had three young kiddos. When I started to notice not only aches and pains that shouldn't be there, but really this overwhelming fatigue and that set me on my path.
I was actually very quickly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which is unusual to get a diagnosis so quick. And I was told that I couldn't heal and that I would just need to take medications to try to slow the disease process as much as we could. And to just, they try to keep me comfortable is what they said.
And unfortunately, although you can't rewrite history, I believed them. I was taught that these are the experts. And even back then when did any kind of research, everything pointed to "can't heal". And so I was a good little girl. I listened to the doctors, I took the medication, and I continued to decline for probably 11 plus years.
At the end of that time, I was on 10 prescriptions. None of which were, life was smaller and smaller. I would rest, by then, I wasn't able to work. I had quit grad school and I would rest during the day when the kids were at school and know just so that I could do the morning and then that afternoon, evening, and oh my gosh, I could not wait until it was bedtime.
And that was the cycle I was stuck in. And my daughter had come to me, my youngest sharing her fears that I was going to die and leave them. And my dad had passed suddenly at 54. And at this point I was in my forties and really thinking I wasn't gonna make it to 50. And so what I promised her in that moment was that I would try everything and that it was like the light bulb.
Like I really, truly thought I had tried everything 'cause I tried every medication they gave me, I did, many of 'em I failed. But I tried them all. And it was literally something in that moment, that conversation with her, that it was like, "you know what, even if I think it's crazy, I'm gonna try it. Even if I don't think it'll work, I am gonna try it".
And that set me on my journey. I was really lucky to create some lifestyle changes that moved the needle and got me feeling well enough and my brain fog lifted enough that I could learn more and dig in and that path led me to coaching.
Coaching led me to functional medicine, and then that was it. I was hooked and determined because here I am off of all those medications. Life is so much bigger. I live on a little horse farm. I have my horses at home. I scuba dive, I hike, I sail, I do all the, I have two businesses. Things I could not have imagined 10 years ago that I would be able to do.
And I'm 54, so I really have, but to feel younger in my fifties than I felt in my thirties, it's " oh, we need to share. The body is miraculous and we need to change the conversation". So thank you for letting me share.
[00:04:43] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. So what were some of those initial steps that you took? When you think back to, right after that conversation with your daughter?
[00:04:53] Julie Michelson: At that point I was already gluten-free. I had gone gluten-free because my oldest son had been diagnosed with Celiac at age 12. And to support him, I went gluten-free. Come to find out later, I too have celiac, but I, didn't know until then.
And that was something that, that was a change that I felt a little bit of an improvement. And so I went back to that, right? It was like, okay, if that worked, what else can I do? And so I went from there to paleo, although I was doing paleo totally wrong. I was doing like loaf, I was fat phobic.
Was a big part of, and we always focus on, which I did first, what to avoid, right? What to remove. And so I removed a lot of things from my diet, but it really wasn't until I put high quality, healthy fats in large quantity in my diet that really shifted things.
I was definitely fat deprived. And so food was a big piece and figuring that out. And the second thing that really made huge impact that I did, just I joke, I had the throw spaghetti at the wall approach to healing. Like I literally was like, I'll try this, I'll try that. I started a dedicated meditation routine.
I was meditating twice a day and the impact that made on my sleep, and my pain was unbelievable. And my energy of course. 'cause when your pain is less and your sleep is better, you have more energy. So the two together, and I didn't, I was not scientific. I really, nobody could study my pack because I did a lot of things at once, and but those are things I still do today. I still, I now know better what I need to be eating and definitely know that meditation is key for me to continue to thrive.
[00:06:51] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. Some things that I hear as you're talking about that is going in, it sounds like with kind of that spirit of a beginner, that idea of let's just try things, let's see what works. Let's experiment, and maybe that was or was not a conscious part of it, but that's something that I think can be helpful 'cause it can be daunting to think about making some of these significant changes.
[00:07:21] Julie Michelson: Yeah. It really is. And it's funny 'cause I remember over the years, I'd hear something about nightshades or something about, and I'd go to my rheumatologist and say, "what do you think about this?" And she'd poo pooh it, and so I started with those things that somehow were stored that but yeah, I love the, that idea of the beginner's mind.
The challenge for me was it took years to really improve because I didn't have any kind of framework. I hadn't heard of functional medicine. I hadn't heard of health coaches and so I didn't have the guidance, but I feel really blessed and certain that this is the path I was supposed to be on because knowing what I know now and looking back, I shouldn't really, on paper felt as good as I did with the changes I made without addressing some of the under underlying drivers of my inflammation.
So I'm just really grateful because, looking back I'm like, "Wow, really those two things, the diet and the stress management were enough to get me functional again". I had such a high toxic burden. And I thought that's another area.
Like I was doing paleo wrong. I thought I was making an effort to use clean products. I hadn't been using plastic. I was doing what I thought, but I wasn't educated enough. So I was using products that are greenwashed, and they're advertised is clean, but they really weren't clean. And so it was a big learning process for me, but I had a lot of mycotoxin and mold illness and heavy metal lead and mercury. So the fact that without addressing that, I was able to even start functioning again was great. It was really a gift.
[00:09:10] Kara Wada, MD: Let's talk a little bit you briefly talked about, bit about greenwashing. So let's talk about it.
[00:09:17] Julie Michelson: Okay. Makes me, it makes me really upset. It was and it's part of our process, right? As I learned how important to have, I actually went keto for a long time which was what my body needed at the time.
And as I learned the importance of healthy fats. And that first part of the process was I got mad, I got angry that I was misguided, I was being intentional and thought I was well educated and and I grew up in a family that had heart disease and so we bought it.
My dad's family was in the dairy business and we used to eat margarine, it's like we really bought into the whole thing. And it's the same with the greenwashing. It just makes me really upset because people are more and more aware because of these conversations that we need to be paying attention to the products that we're using.
But I equate it to food, right? It's that same things are advertised as healthy and on the front, but you have to turn it around and read that ingredient label even on stuff that you're not eating anything that you're using in and around your body because I know there are certain ingredients that I don't, I choose to avoid that are in so many of these supposedly cleaner products and so it just is frustrating for me because I see so many clients where they're trying, they're back where I was, they think they're doing the good thing and they're buying a brand that's popular because they think it's clean and it's not. We can do better.
[00:10:52] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. Do you have any and I guess part of the issue too is when you look at words like all natural or even organic and
[00:11:01] Julie Michelson: Sure 'cause lead is organic.
[00:11:03] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. Like they don't have any weight that's gonna hold up in court, right? Or a certain definition, like for clean. And that's I think, a big discussion is you get into conversations with people of "Oh, don't bother with like clean beauty or whatever, because clean doesn't have a, it doesn't mean anything. And what I would counter to say is, just because it doesn't mean anything, doesn't mean thinking about what we're putting on our bodies isn't important. Maybe we need to look at the bigger picture of the system. And the time being have to do a little, the onus is more on us as the consumer.
[00:11:45] Julie Michelson: It is. And there are resources that are helpful because I am somebody and I've actually found products that I was using that were truly clean when I first started using them and then they changed the product. Which is a bummer. And I'm always learning, right? I'm always but resources like ewg.org and the Think Dirty app.
Are there and there are companies that are EWG certified, which is my preference because I am a little lazy when it comes to, because that's the other part is some companies make certain products at certain standards and other products that are not as clean or may have. I choose not to use fragrance.
I'm sensitive. And you just, you have to, it's just like food. You have to read the labels, but there are ways where it's a little less labor intensive on us, but like you said, it really does come down to us taking responsibility. And then we know what we're getting. And the responsibilities may sound overwhelming.
And they clean too. But the responsibility also equates power, right? That gives us the power to take care of our own health and really every, it's step by step. I always have people clean up products one at a time, and because it's overwhelming and it's ongoing.
We're never done. We're really not, we're never done.
[00:13:13] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. It spreads out the expense too. As you think about,
[00:13:17] Julie Michelson: Oh my gosh, you would go broke. You'd be stressed out, overwhelmed and flaring. Yeah. It would be really expensive. And so I always just say, I tend to try to choose, I tell people, let's start in the bathroom.
And I always start with toothpaste and deodorant and then we just move on from there.
[00:13:35] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah, similar. And I will say though, over the long term, what I've realized is that many of the little switches we've made have simplified routines. Things are not as complicated as they were.
And there are a lot of things that you can use that are multipurpose. Like for instance, there are several different cleaning kind of base concentrates that are out there that work really well, that, "Oh look, you dilute it this much and you have an all purpose cleaner. You dilute it this way and you have a hand soap or here's your laundry detergent that has simplified things immensely".
[00:14:17] Julie Michelson: It has and back to just like we're eating closer to how we used to eat, it's the same thing, right? We didn't have a million cleaning products. No, but the good thing is the resources are out there. You don't have to make your own laundry detergent if you don't want to.
I know people, no, not...
[00:14:32] Kara Wada, MD: like your grandma would've had to. No. Probably with the animals or
[00:14:37] Julie Michelson: the lye and all
[00:14:38] Kara Wada, MD: those things.
[00:14:39] Julie Michelson: Or 20 years ago, you knew you needed to start cleaning it up. I did make my own laundry detergent. Once, it was not good and I was never gonna do it again.
But we do have, I'm picking on greenwashing, but also we have more and more resources and good companies out there and more choices for clean products for sure.
[00:15:03] Kara Wada, MD: One of the other, things that will come up in the conversation, I think that would be, I think, helpful for us to maybe to talk about is, how do you handle, there's, I think, a lot of discussion about how fear sells and managing that side of things too, because everything has marketing, right?
And greenwashing, the reason they're doing it is because they know that we're looking and wanting to buy products that are cleaner. Now they're maybe selling us stuff that they're just putting lipstick on a pig. But then also there's this other side of managing fear-based marketing too.
[00:15:42] Julie Michelson: And I think that that's a natural part of our process as we're healing. And it's the same, we go through the, I think similar with food, right? When we are working on diet and figuring out what's the right diet for my body right now, especially if you've come from a place where you were really sick.
Then I don't think orthorexia was a word years ago. I don't know what exactly when that word entered the dictionary, but we do create a whole nother eating disorder. And it's the same thing with toxins and exposure. I think it's just a natural kind of knee jerk reaction of okay.
And that's where I say, and the marketing side, that's hard. I think it's about being educated. Really understanding that all we have to do is lower our toxic burden. We don't need to avoid all toxins and we can't. But that's where I focus on the home. And when we've really lowered our exposures at home and we're supporting our detox pathways, then we can take the hit out and about, and we'll create resilience as we heal. I had that experience actually recently. I got hit with a mold exposure that I wasn't aware. Like I was aware, I almost got punished for moving through to the other side, like I was somewhere, I saw the mold. I wasn't there very long and working on not being that person who's " no, I'm not leaving the farm".
And it took me a few days to figure it out. I had three days where I was fatigued. I really didn't feel well and I. Finally connected. I was like, "Oh, that's what it was". I upped my toxin support and did the extra things I could to help detox. And then now I'm fine.
So it doesn't mean I'm gonna be sick for five years because I was around some mold. So I think it's just learning what your body can tolerate and knowing that we don't have to be perfect and that's what they're marketing to. That fear comes 'cause, and I think that's for those of us with autoimmunity, that's how we got here anyway.
It's that perfection. And so just knowing that, like some people say the 80 20 rule or, and no, you don't need to calculate, just know that it's making the changes you can. And there is no total, there's literally no way to avoid toxins and the body can handle some toxins.
So that's okay. We just need to support it.
[00:18:18] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. I think one of the discussions that came up at our national meeting this past spring, the intro to one of the main talks was how we really, our bodies have been exposed to a whole lot more in regards to all the substances we're exposed to toxic or not than we ever were over the last 50 to a hundred years. Especially after kind of advent of plastics and a lot of things based outta the petroleum industry. But it really is, it is fascinating as we're starting to get more science and more science within kind of mainstream medicine too.
That I continue to look forward to the advances that we're seeing. I admittedly have been slow to warm up I will say, to some of the aspects of functional medicine, in part due to my background, but also am trying to lean in, remain curious and listen too, I think, I tend to be like a little bit more of a slightly forward thinking, but also cautious. I'm right in that.
[00:19:29] Julie Michelson: Yeah. Which I think is a gift for your patients and your clients. And I definitely think that the background of medical school, I remember years ago, but like in my practice when I'm dealing with people with autoimmunity, I love labs. I do a lot of labs and I front load them. I didn't use to, it used to be like, "Okay, we're gonna do the things and if you don't get better, and if you're not moving that needle fast enough, then we'll dig deeper".
And now I realize everybody that finds me by the time they get to my door, they need the needle to move now, we need to start. And so I just have certain, I call them rocks that I look under, and a toxin panel is one of 'em. And I think it just depends on where you're spending your time. Because my partner's a functional medicine doc and Western trained, and so he uses the pain, but he'll again, he is now doing toxin panels a little sooner than, and he's better about, I don't wanna spend patients' money, and all these labs are expensive and yeah. But it's taken, I've watched his process over the past several years of realizing what a big driver this is for so many people.
I did one toxin panel on somebody that came back really pretty, almost clean. Like really? And I thought it was like I'm like, "You need to repeat your test. I don't know what happened, but something, did you send in water? What is going on?" And she laughed and she's I have been working on my toxin levels for 20 years.
Other than that I just, and we don't all, you don't have to test like it if you are somebody, what I like about the test is it's motivating when you see what's going on in your body. Or you can be proactive and just know we're all, like you said, we're exposed to so much more. We haven't evolved that quickly.
And I really, truly believe that this is why when I was diagnosed in my thirties, doctors were saying, "you're so young". Yeah. Now I'm like, I think you're lucky if you make it to your thirties without an autoimmune diagnosis. Like it is so common now.
I didn't know anybody with RA growing up ever. Nobody's aunts. Nobody's, yeah. And I really think that our toxic overload, and that's the key, is to not get scared. It's the overload. We just need to, we need to let a little water out of the tub. Yeah. Turn the dial.
[00:22:03] Kara Wada, MD: It's fascinating. That is one of the key insights or like realizations, I guess is a better word, that got me extra like I'm stroking my imaginary beard.
[00:22:15] Julie Michelson: Really glad it's imaginary.
[00:22:18] Kara Wada, MD: But I was thinking about in particular my mom's side of the family. My mom is the second of six children. There are around 10 grandkids on that side of the family.
I'm the oldest and of that kind of cohort, my grandma has some mild asthma growing up. Little bit of hay fever. My mom has a little hay fever. And a couple of her sisters might, have a little bit here or there. No autoimmune disease that I'm aware of and then you look at our generation, and I have two cousins with inflammatory bowel disease.
I have Sjogren's. My sister has significant asthma allergy issues. And then a couple other conditions. So at least, as I see it, over half of us have some sort of something condition developed sometime between our teens and our early thirties that's really related to a misbehaving immune system. Too much inflammation and it's That's not normal. Yeah.
[00:23:22] Julie Michelson: Unfortunately it is now.
[00:23:25] Kara Wada, MD: This is not normal to our family, just genetics.
[00:23:28] Julie Michelson: I'm so glad you brought that up too. This is a topic that I think, is harder for people to buy into and believe, even if you have autoimmune disease in your family and you have that genetic tendency, it does not mean you have to have autoimmunity. And again, back to the environment, it's the environment that's pulling the trigger.
And because I meet so many people who just discount, " Oh yeah, but my mom and my aunt have that, or Grandma and whoever have that, it doesn't mean you have to".
[00:23:58] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. What they will teach in lifestyle medicine curriculum is that only about 10% of our health is actually strictly genetic code.
The rest has some influence, what we call the exosomes. So everything else surrounding and we may or may not have control over. We don't have control over every aspect of that and we shouldn't. We don't control whether we're exposed to adverse childhood events for instance, or born in an area with a ton of air pollution or what have you.
But I think that also does give us the opportunity to say,
"Hey, I do have a role in moving the dial."
[00:24:40] Julie Michelson: Absolutely. And if you think of it as a switch if something's activating those genes, then wouldn't it scientifically make sense that if something flipped the switch on, we could flip it back off?
That's the exciting part. That's the part that I used to, and I heard, people, I met people that either had a family member, oh, so and so had rheumatoid arthritis and she did this thing and now she's better. And in my mind I was like either she didn't really have RA or she wasn't as sick as so it's okay, we have to open our mind up a little bit and like you said, maybe we don't know all of it and we can try different things.
[00:25:22] Kara Wada, MD: I'm going back to an experience I had with a patient recently that's undergoing treatment for trauma.
They're undergoing E M D R. They waited till the very end of the visit to let me know that they had started that treatment. And they had been through several sessions, but through the whole visit I could tell something was different, like there was some sort of shift in just their energy.
There's nothing scientific about this but their vibe, right? There was this, like the voice, their, the speed of their speech, how they were talking about their illness. Like it was a substantial shift. And that's the other area that I am extra excited for us to continue to learn, explore, see the role of. Especially after that experience.
[00:26:12] Julie Michelson: That's what popped into my head actually, when we are not in control of everything. And if you've experienced trauma and we've all experienced, that's the thing. We have all experienced trauma. Even if we don't identify it as such and the beauty is we can heal from that if we address it and get the help to move through. And it is amazing and I've seen it over and over again. We're talking about the lifestyle things, right? The food, the toxins, the meditation, all of that. But sometimes you can do all of those things and not feel better. And it's because we really all need to be working on the trauma and the self-love, and that will allow that healing to be exponential. So it's huge.
[00:26:58] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. And I think for what I grapple with at times and I'm very upfront with folks about this, is for so long our mental health diagnoses, our weight, our gender, our hormones, all these things were weaponized against us.
And so then how do we reconcile the fact that, "Oh yeah, we actually are all one human being. These things do matter." But also they are not the end all be all for what you're experiencing, right?
[00:27:28] Julie Michelson: Yeah. There are factors. And it is and so I think we get in trouble when we go either way, right?
Yeah. Like somebody who identifies with their trauma, like I'm somebody who, you know, whatever that experience was and there are people that get stuck there. That's not healthy and you're not gonna heal from that place. And somebody who really won't even acknowledge there was trauma, is also gonna be stuck.
And it's the same thing, right? So somewhere in the middle, like you said with hormones, gender, weight, whatever that is, fill in the blank. It's this idea of if we can find and truly give ourself grace, that's where the magic lies.
[00:28:14] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. All those things that we're, I feel like always coming back to these central core themes in coaching, work, perfectionism, self-love giving ourselves grace.
[00:28:27] Julie Michelson: It's incredible. It's literally every client, it's every person. It may show up differently. It took me a year, actually, it was through my coaching that I was like, "Oh, I guess I'm a perfectionist". It doesn't look the same for everybody. I have a client who has high anxiety.
He is a really successful businessman, but he's aware of the inner voices and the anxiety, but it's a driver for him as well, and his son shuts down. And so he doesn't get it. And I'm like, it's the same. It's just manifesting differently in him. It's the same. And that's the beauty of us and the confusion of us is that we're all individual, but these themes are threads that you can't deny are there for sure.
[00:29:16] Kara Wada, MD: Part of the human experience.
[00:29:18] Julie Michelson: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:29:21] Kara Wada, MD: So if people want to learn more, they wanna listen, they want to connect, where are the best places to find you?
[00:29:31] Julie Michelson: I think the easiest place to find me, 'cause I like shortcuts, is jm.coach. And then from there you can get to wherever you wanna go for if you're somebody interested in coaching or having a conversation, you can go to my Julie Michelson coaching page if you're somebody who wants, if you're like a self-starter, that's why we started Navigate Wellness, and so you could take yourself over there. But my social links and if you wanna listen more and listen to my other conversation with Dr. Kara, check out Inspired Living with Autoimmunity.
[00:30:05] Kara Wada, MD: Awesome. Thank you so much. This is really I think in challenging me to really dig in a little bit more to the evolving science in toxins in particular mycotoxins, which is, I think, this area that allergists, we get a little twitchy.
In part because we just we learn about molds as allergens.
And we, I think we very much recognize sick building syndrome. These, that they have physiologic implications, but then it's this big unknown, and we get twitchy.
[00:30:42] Julie Michelson: I'll share with you, my daughter is doing her dissertation on sick buildings. Oh, she's a historic architecture major, so she yeah, I'm excited.
She's digging into all of that science giving her quite the headache. Literally, yeah. Yeah.
[00:31:00] Kara Wada, MD: Let so I'll do some homework and then we'll we'll reconvene on this discussion.
[00:31:04] Julie Michelson: Yeah. I know for the physicians that the scientific method is behind in a lot of this. Like , you have to help create the sciences. There you go. There's a new mission. But we do, we need the studies and we need those dots connected, for sure.
Yeah. So I'm just grateful that you're willing to lean in.
[00:31:24] Kara Wada, MD: Yeah. And I have to.
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