“It definitely does matter what and how you eat, how you sleep, what you put on your skin, what you breathe, what you expose your brain to, how much you move your body, how you interact with your family and friends, and how you acknowledge a higher power and purpose for your life.”
– Tabatha Barber
As an OB/GYN physician, Dr. Tabatha Barber has cared for thousands of patients and brought hundreds of babies into the world.
But taking care of herself, well, that’s only happened recently, and only after years of health struggles forced her to reevaluate the way she lived.
The food she ate. How much she slept. Daily stresses. All of it contributed to two autoimmune disorders, acid reflux, severe IBS and depression.
By changing her lifestyle, she altered her health dramatically, allowing her to get off five prescription medications.
“The only thing I take now is vitamins,” she says.
A Perfect Storm for Her Health
Since the age of 17, Tabatha has been caring for others. That’s when, as a junior in high school, she gave birth to her daughter.
It wasn’t the plan. But she didn’t know that taking antibiotics for strep throat could render her birth control pills less effective.
Determined, she went on to get a GED, do well at community college, and then graduate from Michigan State.
While in college, she had been diagnosed with her first autoimmune disorder, Hashimoto’s disease, a thyroid condition for which she was prescribed Synthroid.
After college, it was on to medical school, which proved to be a perfect storm for her health. Her body buckled with little sleep, poor eating, and the stresses of school, caring for a young daughter and a challenging marriage.
She began losing circulation and feeling in her toes, leading doctors to diagnose her with Raynaud’s syndrome and put her on Nifedipine. With Raynaud’s, the blood vessels narrow, which restricts blood flow to the extremities.
She also developed acid reflux and started taking yet another prescription, Protonix. “It was probably because of the 10 Starbucks a day I was consuming to stay awake to study!” she says.
Then there was the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that occasionally forced her to interrupt patient appointments to race to the restroom. Again, doctors put her on prescription medication, this time Bentyl.
And finally, with she was deemed depressed and prescribed Prozac.
By the end of med school, she was on five prescription medications.
“Not one physician told me this could be from my horrible diet, stress, miserable marriage or lack of sleep,” she says. “Nobody told me why I had developed these diseases, or tried to fix the root cause. I just kept getting another pill for another ill.”
A Breaking Point Leads to a Break
Tabatha lived this way for years, managing her conditions with medication. And yet, they still weren’t that manageable.
She’d been able to get off reflux medications after her residency because of the reduced stress and coffee consumption.
However, her gut and skin were still a wreck.
The irony wasn’t lost on her, of being in a field intended to keep other people healthy, and being asked to forego sleep regularly, hold her bladder or skip meals.
“It’s harmful and not sustainable,” she says.
When she tried to get healthy by taking up jogging, she ruptured a disc in her back. She reluctantly had surgery to repair the disc and spent six weeks recovering.
Upon return to work, on her third consecutive night of delivering babies, she reinjured her back in the same location.
That was the last straw. She decided to take four months off to truly take care of herself.
A Natural Solution for Hashimoto’s, and More
While on a hiatus, Tabatha read, listened to podcasts by Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Amy Myers, and researched ways to get healthier. For the first time, she was introduced to the world of functional medicine, an approach that looks to address root causes rather than just symptoms.
She turned to nutritious food, movement, meditation, spiritual practices, herbs and traditional Chinese medicine.
Diet, she found, was one of the most influential things she changed.
She had never eaten well. As a child, she saved her money to head to the Dairy Queen for a Blizzard.
“I ate dairy and sugar like it was my job,” she says, now realizing it was an addiction.
Years before, an aunt had mentioned that she couldn’t eat gluten herself, and that had always remained in the back of Tabatha’s mind.
“I knew I didn’t have celiac disease and conventional medicine said gluten shouldn’t be a problem if you’re not celiac, so I dismissed it,” she says.
However, she soon learned about non-celiac gluten sensitivity and the inflammatory nature of gluten for many people. Thus she cut gluten from her diet and began following the Whole30 diet.
She also started drinking apple cider vinegar to improve her digestion, and taking probiotics, CoQ10 and a multivitamin. Thyroid Support from Pure Encapsulations replaced her prescription thyroid medication.
At the same time, she went to physical therapy twice a week for her back.
Soon, her back pain ceased, her bowels were regular and her longtime eczema cleared.
Within about six months – with a natural solution for Hashimoto’s – her thyroid became easier to keep in normal ranges, leading her to stop taking Synthroid.
The Power of Movement and Meditation
Tabatha also made exercise and stress management a priority, turning to yoga, running and meditation.
“That’s been very transformative,” she says. “I’ve been able to release so much of my stress and get my cortisol levels balanced because of that. I’ll take a bath with Epson salts, listen to the app and just meditate.”
As an obstetrician, Tabatha found a regular sleep schedule was often derailed by delivering babies. She does her best to regulate her sleep, and get more of it, and continues to work on it as best she can.
By taking all these steps to nurture herself, she soon noticed her depression disappear.
No More Meds
Today, Tabatha is off all medication, and instead manages Hashimoto’s, Raynaud’s, depression and IBS naturally.
“I’m only on vitamins now,” she says.
She continues a gluten-free, mostly plant-based diet and avoids carbohydrates and sugar. If she eats grains, she chooses seeded whole grains in products such as Ezekiel bread. Instead of wheat pasta, she cooks edamame, black bean or lentil pasta.
Her body serves as a fast feedback loop for what she’s eating.
“If I do slip up, I have back pain,” she says.
By changing her diet and healing her gut, she no longer craves sugar either.
“You just have to get a healthy microbiome and you won’t crave this stuff,” she says.
Treating Women with Root Cause Medicine
Tabatha’s personal experience with health has also influenced her career. A new convert to functional medicine, she is completing certification with the Cleveland Clinic Institute for Functional Medicine.
And next, she’s joining a wellness space in her town as a functional gynecologist. There, she’ll treat women with root cause medicine in a holistic way, and will eagerly share what she’s learned firsthand.
“It definitely does matter what and how you eat, how you sleep, what you put on your skin, what you breathe, what you expose your brain to, how much you move your body, how you interact with your family and friends, and how you acknowledge a higher power and purpose for your life,” she says.
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What works for one person may not work for another. Consult your health practitioner for professional health advice.