How to Navigate Your Way Through Autoimmunity Issues and Social Situations, with Dina Staurulakis

Firstly, can you please introduce who you are to our community? (not what you do)

Hi, I’m Dina! I live in NYC under non-pandemic circumstances. I’m 100% gluten-free (not by choice) and dabble in the vegan world. Lover of matcha, browsing the aisles of health stores, studying menus, learning about the dimensions of wellness, and helping people achieve feeling optimal, not a settled state of well-being!

What makes you present, or at the moment?

We live in an age of distraction – there is no shortage of news, social media, past thoughts and future thoughts that inundate our minds. Being mindful is challenging, you have to intentionally set your focus on the present.

While I’m still working on this myself, a few things that make me present are: celebrating the tiny joys, identifying the mini moments that make me happy and doing them often (walking my dog, cooking, being with family/friends, jogging), breathing/mini-meditations, actively listening, not waiting for “tomorrow when I feel more energy” to do things, reflecting on my day and counting my blessings, digital world breaks.

What’s one food that you eat almost every day, and why?

Eggs! I actually hated them when I was a kid but I’ve grown to appreciate them. They are extremely versatile so I mix up the style when I get bored. They have iodine and selenium that help regulate thyroid hormones, plus its protein count helps kick-start my morning (or any time of the day).

You’ve had an interesting gut health journey. Where did it all begin?

Wow wow wow, yes! Growing up, I had a number of underlying health issues that never pointed to my gut. Two, in particular, were my blood and thyroid. I was extremely anaemic but saw a haematologist for that. I had thyroid issues and saw an endocrinologist for that. It wasn’t until my senior year of college (after studying abroad in Italy…) that these symptoms all rear-ended themselves and pointed to my stomach.

At what stage did you recognise that it was your gut health that you needed to finally take care of, and what first steps did you take?

First and foremost, I think it’s a real shame that you have to be your own advocate throughout your health journey. But, I’m also very fortunate to have a driven mom who persisted and prioritized my health because to me, I sadly thought it was normal to feel the way I did. It wasn’t until the summer of 2016, I started getting extremely nauseous and throwing up after eating. I was actually scared to eat anything and this was the first time my stomach came into the picture.

I ended up going to a gastroenterologist and told him of these recent episodes. My mom (who of course was at the appointment with me) encouraged me to share my health history *and in my head, I was thinking why do I need to tell this stomach doctor my other issues, I see specialized doctors for those* but as soon as I said anaemia, IBS, and thyroid, he asked if I had been tested for celiac disease. Sure enough, following a small endoscopy procedure, I received my results J

You’ve been diagnosed with celiac, Hashimotos and PCOS. How do you navigate your way around ‘what to eat’, when managing three different conditions?

The saving grace is that they are all connected! Unfortunately, they aren’t treated as such, but they are. Food allergies and diet restrictions have become very prevalent, but my best advice is to eat real, whole foods. You just can’t go wrong. There is no room for error when you make your own meals using the ingredients you trust to not make you sick. Take your own snacks to work with you. Bring mini-meals wherever you go, you don’t know where the day may take you! It’ll take some initial work and prep but it’s truly the only way to monitor what is going into your body. 

How much do you think hormones play a role in immune disorders such as Hashimotos, and PCOS and what are some tell-tale signs that their hormones are off?

Hormones are everything! They play a HUGE role in Hashimoto’s and PCOS. Hormones affect your thyroid health and inflammation associated with autoimmune thyroid flare-ups and vice versa. And women with PCOS have a hormone imbalance and metabolism problem that can affect their overall health. Symptoms lists have all starting to sound the same…BUT some important indicators of hormone imbalance for me were cystic acne, extreme fatigue, vitamin deficiencies, brain fog, and PMS symptoms.

You’re now a certified health coach. That must be extremely rewarding! Can you tell us a little bit about what you do with clients to help them reach their goals?

Everyone’s health goals are very personal but my main priority is to help each of my client’s reach a point of comparison. Over time, we’ve lowered our expectations as to how our bodies are supposed to perform or how good we can feel. I take a holistic approach with my clients in helping them examine a variety of aspects of their life, nutrition, social life, career, health, physical activity, environment, and more to see how we can achieve feeling optimal, not a settled state of well-being.

What has been your proudest moment since becoming a health coach?

My proudest moment(s) since becoming a health coach is when my clients come to their hallelujah moment – when they realize that the small changes they’ve implemented have made them feel SO much better that they no longer choose the same patterns they used to live by. Whether it changes in their diet, exercise, or mindset, small changes have a huge impact and it is all through their own efforts and accomplishments.

From first-hand experience, social outings involving food can be extremely isolating for people who have allergies/sensitivities or autoimmune issues. What’s your advice to those who are in these situations?

Oh my gosh, I’m sweating just thinking about it. It’s true, eating out can be extremely stressful and isolating. But, when your health depends on your diet, you have to take it seriously and so should everyone else – so should restaurants, your friends, and your family. If you are going out to eat, study the menu beforehand so that you go prepared knowing specific questions on the dish you desire. If the restaurant just doesn’t seem suitable, eat before so that there is no room for error and meet your friends there for a drink! If it’s a client lunch, “go to the bathroom” and on the way chat with your waiter to clarify the appetizers etc so that you can participate. It takes time and trial & error to learn the right questions to ask but you get to the point where you aren’t embarrassed anymore!

For those who are dealing with digestive health issues and don’t have a lot of money, what are some baseline recommendations that you can give to them to work on?

There is so much more that goes into improving your digestive health than just the foods you eat.

Start by staying hydrated, drink more water and herbal teas.

Manage your stress – it can wreak havoc on your digestive system and cause ulcers, diarrhea, constipation, and IBS. Some people think they have a serious illness but are shocked to learn that it’s just stress! Download any meditation or breathing app, there is no excuse in this stay-at-home era.

Start a food journal and eat mindfully. Pay attention to your food and how it makes you feel – studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce digestive symptoms. And, chewing your food slowly helps the digestion process.

Go for walks – it helps your food travel through your digestive system.

Eat REAL food! Give your body a break, it has been in overdrive trying to process a high carb, saturated fat, and food additive diet. There is nothing wrong with canned vegetables, salmon, tuna (you can get healthy fats in that way too!).

Lastly, incorporating gut-supporting supplements. You don’t have to go overboard. Start with a probiotic and when that runs out, add or swap magnesium, then glutamine, and so on. It doesn’t have to be a big up-front cost!

During 2020, our mental health has been challenged which can aggravate gut health issues. What have you been practising to keep mentally and physically healthy?

Yes, it has and everyone’s feelings and stressors are valid during this time. For me, I’ve really had to prioritize different ways to cope with stress differently than before.

I block time to workout, for me it helps to do this in the morning. That time is for me and I’ve learned it can be 15 or 50 minutes for it to be effective. I have a friend who is AMAZING and has started her own pilates business because of COVID-19; signing up for her classes is a way for me to be held accountable and connect with friends all while also supporting one another in our goals!

I take breaks from watching the news.

I make time to unwind and do mini-happy activities – biking, calling a friend, painting, cooking, etc.

I also love the Calm app – it combines breathing, meditation, and gratitude practices and is an amazing way to set the stage for your day and close it out as well

What is one way you would like to impact your community or the world as you continue to work as a health coach?

Unfortunately, our current health care system is very diagnostic focused. There is not much room for looking into the source of the illness and surely very little to no resources following a diagnosis. Patients are left on his/her own to navigate their nutrition, medications, supplements, etc. and there is a huge hole – health coaches fill that gap and that was part of my inspiration in becoming one.

What is currently in your fridge, and why?

Eggs, avocado, Elmhurst nut milk (every nut possible and oat HA!), pesto, ginger, garlic, lemons/limes, coconut yogurt, probiotics (sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, pickled vegetables), squash, beets, sweet potatoes, and MUCH MORE but this base allows for an anti-inflammatory, hormone balancing, and gluten-free diet.

The above content is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice or diagnosis and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. moxie shall not be liable for any claim, loss, or damage arising out of the use of, or reliance upon any content or information in this article.

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