KJ Gracie is a Nutrition and Holistic Therapist, doTERRA Essential Oils Advocate and Business Mentor. After a harrowing personal health journey (which she talks about in more detail below) and her children receiving diagnoses at very young ages, KJ Gracie became her own health researcher and advocate. Now, when she is not spending time with her amazing children or working with them for their homeschooling, she spends all her time helping others reclaim their health!
Here, KJ Gracie answers our questions about health, wellness, myalgic encephalomyelitis, autism, essential oils, and running a successful business!
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This is part of Nutrishatives’ Ask an Expert Series, where we chat with movers and shakers in health, wellness, nutrition, and medicine about their careers, their current work and their expert opinions on… well… their area of expertise!
Like so many of us who end up pursuing a career in health and nutrition, your passion for the field stemmed from your family’s own health journey! Could you talk a little bit about the events that lead you to pursue a career in nutrition and holistic therapy?
I was never a “well” child. I was attacked by a dog at three years old and needed a lot of surgery and antibiotics, etc., which I suspect started a chain of health issues. My body was constantly battling inflammation after that, from asthma and eczema to catching every cold going.
At the age of seven, I was seeing a specialist for headaches/migraines.
When I was around 13, I caught meningitis, which really knocked me hard. Having a severe needle phobia, I refused consent for a spinal. I believed at the time that the doctor would paralyze me because I couldn’t stay still enough for them to do it. Their response was to give me huge doses of broad-spectrum antibiotics (again!) to see what would work.
It settled down, but I was now having absence seizures and had severe hormonal disruption. Getting my period meant at least a week (usually more) off school vomiting and sometimes even being put on morphine!
During a freshers’ week event at the university, I caught the glandular fever. It turns out that the meningitis strain had been waiting dormant in my body for just such an opportunity. My poor sister had to drive me, barely conscious, to A&E whilst my face swelled beyond recognition.
After this, I basically didn’t recover. I got a little better, but I was eventually diagnosed with ME (often now called CFS). At this point, my doctor told me I would never be well again. (To be fair to him, he’d suffered glandular fever over 60 years earlier and was still unable to have a glass of wine without being in bed for a week.) He said I’d just “learn to cope”.
Being very sick, and told there’s nothing the NHS could offer, was what first drew me to look into Complementary Medicine. But honestly, I didn’t take it seriously until my son was born. He was very sick, too. But the doctors kept telling me there was nothing wrong.
I decided I must be paranoid (by this time, I had an anxiety disorder diagnosis, as well). Then, one day, a health visitor referred us to a new doctor. They spent a bit more time with my son and informed me that he has autism.
The doctor, and three friends, all pointed me towards the same book (Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride). At this point, I finally started taking nutrition, at least, more seriously.
For our readers who don’t know, could you expand a little bit on what myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and autism are?
Today, most people, at least in the UK, call ME “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” or “CFS”. It’s a horrible diagnosis to get because it basically means “your body is very tired and we don’t know why and it’s lasted more than three months”. Once you get that diagnosis, your doctor will dismiss almost anything you come to him about as “it’s typical for people with ME”. It makes it very hard to get symptoms taken seriously.
Autism is controversial. No one knows the cause. Many people will tell you it’s just “neurodiversity” (they think differently) but I don’t accept that’s all it is. People with autism frequently suffer from oversensitivity, eczema, digestive issues, depression, and more. That suggests there’s something more than just the way they think that’s going on. We also know that there is a decrease in specific autistic traits when people eat large amounts of broccoli sprouts, or sulforaphane, suggesting that these people need more heat shock proteins to protect their brains than “neurotypical” people.
You mention on your site that you had a doctor tell you, “Mothers of autistic children are never healthy.” That is a strong statement that would ruffle lots of feathers among both the general public and, frankly, the medical community, as well. How did you feel about that concept when it was first presented to you? How do you feel about it now? Did the doctor explain at all on the ways in which he/she suspected maternal health influenced autism?
Honestly, it was a bit of a shock at the time but I’m glad he had the guts to say it. I think that statement upsets people because it sounds like we’re talking about causation — but it’s not true. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.
Let me use an analogy to explain. If it’s more common to see a fire engine at the site of a fire, can we infer that fire engines cause fires? No, of course not.
Now, in my case, it’s pretty clear that I was sick LONG before my son was born. That, however, is not always the case.
Having high needs children, whether it’s autism or something else, can be a huge strain on a family, particularly in the early years. You cannot underestimate the effects that emotional stress puts on the body. I guess it’s possible to be the mother of a child with ASD and be completely zen and totally fine with it but I haven’t met that mother yet. I’m grateful for a doctor who nudged me to take more responsibility for my own health, for the sake of my children.
You also mention on your site that you stumbled across information suggesting that diet could play a large role in managing the symptoms of autism and myalgic encephalomyelitis. So, your family made dietary changes and found them to be wildly helpful! For our readers whose families are struggling with either (or both!) of these conditions, could you expand a little bit on the exact types of dietary changes you made?
Well, I’m afraid the best option for someone suffering from either of these is going to be an individualized care plan and they should really see professionals! I highly recommend the book Unprescription for Autism by Dr. Janet Lintala as a great starting point.
Essentially, the most important steps are going to be improving nutrition, reducing toxicity, and restoring the gut microbiome. It’s the same treatment program, regardless of what’s wrong, to be honest.
I don’t consider these things, in my experience so far, to be a “cure” for autism. In fact, both my children are still on the autistic spectrum. However, they are happier, healthier, and functioning at a much higher level than we could have imagined, so long as we manage their diet and environment well.
So, I guess my original GP was right. We learn to manage the bodies we have. Mine, and my children’s, don’t tolerate certain things as well as some other people’s do, and we have to play the hand we’ve been dealt.
We know you’re a huge fan of essential oils! Could you talk a little bit about what drew you to essential oils in the first place? What first drew your attention to them? What keeps you using them?
Yes! I love my oils.
Initially, I was drawn to them for DIY things like cleaning and cosmetics. As I said before, first steps include reducing toxicity, and that meant getting rid of all the junk and chemical cleaning products and cosmetics in our home. I spent hours online (before the days of Pinterest!) trying to find recipes for making non-toxic cleaning products and they almost always contain essential oils!
Obviously, I didn’t want synthetic or adulterated oils. If I’m paying for organic food, it seems crazy to start using super-concentrated bottles of oil that will also contain super-concentrated pesticides the produce was grown in!
There are a few companies out there that do good quality organic oils, and I’ve retailed a couple of them but I’m finally sold on dōTERRA. Their Source to You website (where you can check the exact chemical makeup of the actual bottle you hold in your hand) is just amazing. It’s unmatched by any other company I’ve ever worked with.
I’d be lying if I said that earning commission and getting not only my oils for free, but an income from them, too, isn’t a huge blessing to a family who is raising two children with high needs (especially since we are also trying to manage a budget for real food, organic, fully-pastured kind of a diet!)
This is kind of a silly question, but we’re genuinely curious! Do you have a favorite essential oil? If so, what makes it special to you?
My favorite essential oil in the whole world for fragrance and flavor is tangerine. I love anything citrus (lime, lemon, wild orange, grapefruit), but tangerine is the best.
In terms of therapeutic quality, it has to be Copaiba. It just makes me feel so relaxed!
If you could get everyone on earth to understand one thing about essential oils, what would it be?
That they’re powerful and effective! Honestly, for such a long time I was a skeptic. I genuinely only got into them for cleaning purposes. Learning about the science behind aromatherapy has literally blown my mind. Wherever you buy your oils, make sure it’s somewhere with a really good education program.
What about healthy living and nutrition? What do you wish everyone understood about healthy living and nutrition that most people do not?
I wish people understood how important their gut health is. Most people make choices every day that are harmful to their gut microbiome and, ultimately, their health. It’s not until they’re acutely sick that they start to wonder if they need to do something about it (and often not even then if they haven’t exhausted allopathic medicine). It’s so much easier to look after a healthy body — with good choices, every day — than it is to reverse sickness in someone who’s made 30-40 years of poor choices.
If one of our readers is sitting in the same frustratingly complex and stressful health situation you and your family were facing around the birth of your children, what advice would you give them? What do you know now that you wish you would have known then?
Only that you’re not alone.
When I first started looking into nutrition and making radical changes, several people became concerned that I had an eating disorder. Ten years later, people can see the fruit in our lives and many have joined us on a journey of making better choices for their own families!!
Sometimes it’s hard to be a pioneer of something new and different in your community. If the culture in your family and social circle isn’t one of health, you won’t find much support there.
But stick with it, anyway.
Find a tribe (online if you have to!) of people who support what you’re doing. Surround yourself with encouragers, not discouragement! You never know, you might be the culture-changer your community needs!
If you’re looking for a new tribe, keep an eye out on my blog for the community cleanse coming up in the autumn.
What about people who are flirting with the idea of starting their own nutrition or holistic therapy practice? We know you’re an awesome business mentor! Is there one piece of free advice that you could share for people nervous about taking that first step?
It’s scary, isn’t it, taking the first steps?
My first piece of advice is to get a mentor you can work with, who you trust. Find someone who really click with, who’s vision resonates with yours, and who has the time/capacity to help you get up and running.
The people I’m working with get a slot each week for one hour to go over business plans and strategy for the next week. Sometimes it’s a strategic session, sometimes it seems more like pastoral care or therapy(!). But they know (I hope) that I’m always 100% on their team.
My second piece of advice would be that it’s okay to grow as fast or as slow as you like. My children are my priority, so when they were young, my business barely broke even. I didn’t do it for money. It was a passion to help others.
As they’ve gotten older, and are a little more self-sufficient (and, honestly, we now have an au pair, so a third adult really helps!) I’ve been able to work a lot more and I’m starting to earn a decent income. I know people who’ve done that a lot sooner. They’ve put in a lot more hours than I’ve been able/willing to, though.
Business isn’t a race. You don’t have to compete against anyone else for “success”. Don’t burn out. Enjoy the journey. If you don’t like your business, you’re probably not in the right one.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I’m a Christian and I really believe that our bodies were designed to be healthy. I believe that a part of what I was made for is helping people to recognize their bodies are important and they should treat them with love and respect.
I want to leave a legacy of choosing to love people, and helping them to learn to love themselves. That’s why the tagline on my website is “Your Health Matters”. I don’t think people hear often enough that they matter.
Want to hear more about KJ’s journey? Check out her blog! Or follow her on Facebook and Twitter for daily health and wellness insights and inspiration! Interested in working with KJ directly? You can totally reach out to her via her website!