Hi, my name is Hannah Hartzheim. In the past four years, I have gone from living off of Taco Bell to becoming a Certified Personal Trainer and Holistic Health Coach. If you’re wondering what sparked this 360-degree turn, it was my unwillingness to give up and the realization that if I continued eating gluten, I would die.
Since birth, I struggled with auto-immune issues. Not only was I the ugly infant covered in eczema, I was also the baby who wouldn’t stop crying. I was deemed failure to thrive and suffered from colic. As a young child, other than my eczema, I was a very healthy kid. All through middle school I was very athletic and out-going. As I went into high school, my digestive issues started to take a turn. I still continued to play sports and hang out with friends, but nobody knew what I was feeling on the inside. At the time, I thought constant stomach aches and pains were “normal.” Never, in all four years of high school and living off Taco Bell, battered chicken, pasta, and white bread, did I ever think to make the connection between what I ate and how I felt. Give up pasta? Have you lost your mind?
I graduated from Grafton High School in 2015 and immediately began college courses in the fall. I wanted to be a nurse, and make money, and move out, and oh, I just had it ALL figured out. Let’s all laugh together… As my first year of college went on, my stomach started to rule my entire life. But now, it wasn’t just my digestion that took a toll. I started to have severe panic attacks and brain fog. The kind of fog where you’re driving home and next thing you know, you are home and you don’t know how you got there… Yeah, if you have this, it is not normal. I was slowly starting to notice myself feeling more tired and just not feeling like myself emotionally. Most days I could hardly make it up the school stairs without feeling faint. I love learning and school in general, but focusing was nearly impossible, and I began counting down the minutes until I could get home to lie down because of my stomach pains. Headaches and panic attacks also became daily occurrences.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t quite convinced to go to the doctor yet. Oh, my stubborn self was CONVINCED that I still had it all figured out and I would be just fine. I began realizing that alcohol numbed the pain, and this was the start of a very slippery slope. My eating became very disordered and the anxiety surrounding food was something I’d never felt before. In September 2016, I was on my way to a concert with my friends and we took a group photo. I had no idea just how unhealthy I looked until I saw us side by side. Within a year of graduating high school, I had lost almost 40 pounds. I am 5’5, athletic build, and I was 110 pounds. Between the clothes I had falling off me, broken out skin, and my hair thinning out it was the push I needed to make some changes for my health.
In early 2017, I got my first gym membership and I started seeing doctors in hopes of finding answers. I was weak and tired, but my athletic muscle’s memory was coming to the rescue. The gym helped with my anxiety and I tried to make smarter choices with food. This included getting drive-through salad… I was trying, okay? It was incredibly discouraging to be going from doctor to doctor, busting butt in the gym, and trying everything I could to feel better, but nothing. I knew this wasn’t just an upset stomach or irritated bowels. This was bigger. My body was crying for help.
Just after my 21st birthday in May of 2017, I found out I had Celiac Disease and believe it or not, I was thrilled. Having a sense of peace with knowing I wasn’t crazy was a huge relief! This wasn’t made up in my head, I had an autoimmune disease! However, I left the doctor that day with more questions than I had going in. I went home, sat at my kitchen table, and wrote down all the foods I couldn’t have. Let’s just say, Taco Bell obviously, didn’t make the cut. I was devastated, but I knew that I was going to feel better, no matter what it took. I wasn’t meant to live my life in pain and being anxious about food!
The process to become gluten free was challenging to say the least. I truly had no clue what I was doing. I felt like every time I took a step forward; I took two back. I’ll never forget countless nights breaking down crying, thinking “there’s no way I can live like this for the rest of my life.” Whenever I faced these moments, I would think of my grandfather. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and passed away during the summer of 2015. Anybody that knew my grandpa, would describe him as God-fearing, kind, strong, and wise. I never once remember him complaining about the PD symptoms, like the tremors. Never once do I recall him being angry with God or asking, “why me?” It was his strength that kept me going on my toughest days as my health journey continued. There were still daily trials with eating and struggling to find the balance. Days would go by, I would be eating great, and then I would be back in pain, sick again.
Once I fully embraced, not only a gluten free diet, but a sustainable healthy lifestyle, I knew I wanted to inspire others to do the same. I was offered a personal training job at Rhonda Huff FIT in July 2018 and I graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition just months after. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity I get every day to work with people that inspire me more than they’ll probably ever know. I can proudly say I’m thankful for my diagnosis because it brought me to my calling. I am beyond passionate about bridging the gap between nutritional, emotional and physical health for my clients. I hope, whoever is reading this right now, can understand that if I can do it, anybody can. Change never happens over night, but it is possible. We all have a responsibility to make the best decisions for our bodies each and every day. Health is a privilege not all are given and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. We honor our health through lifestyle. Your lifestyle right now is either setting you up for wellness or it is not. Constant headaches, stomach pains, fatigue, brain fog, and severe anxiety are all things you do NOT have to deal with forever. Even a small step in the right direction daily can lead to big shifts in your health. What steps are you willing to take today to have a better tomorrow?