From malnourished to mighty

By: Hannah Setzer

For 24 years, my sole source of nutrition came from 6 aluminum cans of artificial food a day. I’m here writing this so it did sustain me. I gained weight and was never labeled failure to thrive. I am naturally a smaller framed person and have always been slightly underweight but I was able to go to school, participate in extracurricular activities, and have a fairly normal childhood aside from other medical issues.

I have a medical condition that affects my lymphatic system and have many cysts in my head and my neck. These cysts are through all layers of tissue, muscle, and fat and are not easily removed. There are probably thousands in total. These cysts would often get infected and my cheeks or neck would swell, become very painful, hot to the touch, red and shiny. I would have to have intense antibiotics via shots in my rear or IV. These infections happened often in my childhood and there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason why.

Now that I’m older, I can pinpoint some triggers such as stress, extreme overexertion, menstruation, or blunt force trauma- which clearly doesn’t happen often but kids will be kids and sometimes accidents happen. I have very vivid memories of having to get two shots in my rear several times a week when I had an infection or having to sit in the doctor's offices waiting to get antibiotics because another infection flared up. Feeling bad about once a month became the norm for me; I didn’t even think that there could be anything else out there. 

With the help of three friends and a chiropractor, I slowly transitioned to blended food. Let me stop here and say that working with smart, wise, and experienced people is a MUCH better approach than what I did. I worked with a chiropractor who. while well respected and trusted, had no experience working with clients with feeding tubes or blended diets. He was misguided, misinformed, and- honestly- very reckless with the care he provided me and it came with a cost.

I went from about 1,500 calories a day via six cans of Ensure, to approximately 500 calories a day because he put me on a diet of protein powder and almond milk. Literally. That was all I was told to eat to ween off Ensure. Here is an entry from my blog on October 31, 2013:

“I've started making my own food. Specifically, I've stopped eating sugar. I started 3 weeks ago and I've replaced 4/6 cans of Ensure daily from my diet. I had really bad sugar withdrawal headaches. I was grouchy as crap. I demanded more from the people I love than I ever should. I'm mostly past that point. It is good. I feel good. Everyone in this town asks me how I'm doing with it because Britt told everyone. Chelsea and I have been praying that it works. That it's real and not a fluke. It's crazy.”

The sugar withdrawal was real. It was HARD. At the time, I blamed everything on going through sugar withdrawal but now I can clearly see that I was also INSANELY malnourished and the brain fog, exhaustion, and mood swings were due to starvation, not sugar withdrawal. I went from about 105 pounds to 78 pounds in less than two months. All this happened right before I took a one-way plane ride to live in Brazil on my own for 8 months. Needless to say, my very loving parents were not happy.

Over the next two months, I stopped seeing the insane chiropractor but I was determined not to go back to Ensure. I’d learned how synthetic and terrible their ingredients were for me and I couldn’t go back. Once you know better, you do better. I also couldn’t go back to being sick ¼ of every month.

Three of my friends and I spent hours plugging things into the MyFitnessPal app to try to create recipes for me. We knew I had to gain weight quickly but I was all in on this real food journey. I scoured the internet and there were no options. No one was creating real food for people with feeding tubes. There weren’t resources so it was a shot in the dark every day to try to blend things that would give me enough protein, fat, and carbs to sustain my body and help me thrive. We sat in coffee shops, cars, parks, kitchen tables, and spent many tear-filled days trying to create recipes that would work for me. I still use the basis of that recipe we created five years ago to eat every day. 

Five years later, I can confidently say I am healthier than I have ever been. I sleep well, I have mental clarity, I can move my body every single day, I am able to gain muscle and eat more calories than I ever have. I can have approximately one sip of a sugar-filled drink before I get sick. I can eat about 2 jelly beans. I eat real, organic foods, and in the past 5 years, I have only gotten infections in my cysts 4 times. Not 4 times a year, 4 times total. In 5 years. They happen about once a year now and I will admit when they do happen they are VERY bad. Two of them have resulted in hospital stays, but I’d rather one ruthless infection than 12 in a year. 

Real food is the best ya’ll. I know it’s scary to make the transition but it’s worth it. There is nothing more important than how and what we use to fuel our bodies. I hope my story helps you see how much what we put in our bodies affects us. For me, it was the difference between 12 infections a year for 24 years to four infections in the last five. I am so grateful that Pediasure and Ensure kept me alive for 24 years to realize that there was more for me.