About Dr Catriona Walsh, Belfast Nutritionist and Lifestyle Coach

Portrait Dr Catriona Walsh, Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach in Belfast with an interest in Functional Medicine

Please allow me to introduce myself...

Hi. I’m Dr Catriona Walsh, a Belfast-based former paediatric consultant turned nutritionist and lifestyle coach. My fields of expertise are in: 

  • burnout management and prevention, 
  • gadolinium toxicity, 
  • chronic fatigue, and 
  • hypermobility.

I help exhausted professionals who are run-down and worn-out from trying to juggle all of life’s crazy circus balls without stopping to take care of themselves. So I’m also a burnout coach.

Qualifications

MA (Cantab.), MB BCh BAO, Dip NLC IHS

What do I do?

Investigate

When might you need to work with me? When you need to discover which aspects of your diet and lifestyle are impacting on your health. Also, I can help you identify other factors that are harming you and those around you, like:

  • toxic exposures, 
  • stressors, and 
  • hereditary (genetic) conditions.

Educate

If you know you need to change things up with your diet and lifestyle, I help you gain clarity. You’ll learn what you need to change, for how long and why. And also when and how to start reintroducing foods and habits back in after you’ve eliminated them.

Coach

If you need support making the changes that will take you from feeling: 

  • tired all the time, 
  • irritable, 
  • stressed, and 
  • in pain

To feeling: 

  • happy, 
  • alert, 
  • active, 
  • energetic, 
  • strong and slim…

Let me help. I’ll help motivate and encourage you, hold you accountable for making changes, and troubleshoot with you when things don’t go according to plan. As a coach, not only a nutritionist, I’m your ally. So I’m on your side.

This is how I became a nutritionist and developed my specialist interests.

After working as a paediatric doctor for the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK for 15 years, I found myself mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. Not only that, I was anxious and no longer able to function. To top it all off, I wasn’t enjoying life and I had a litany of physical ailments which my doctors couldn’t alleviate. 

I had to take extended leave from work. It sucked. Big time. I felt sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

Looking back, it was clear I was completely burnt out. Even when you love your job, there’s a steep price for: 

  • working nights, shifts and staying in work late, 
  • long hours, 
  • drinking coffee like it’s going out of fashion to stay alert, 
  • eating on the run and when stressed and trying to multitask (especially when that food is ultra-processed),
  • prioritising other people’s needs before your own health,
  • trying to keep up with continuous professional development (so additional studying, courses, exams, teaching commitments, and audits on top of your day job),
  • constantly trying to keep up with the pressure to reduce waiting lists and be more productive,
  • feeling like you have to say yes to every opportunity and request,
  • commuting, and 
  • dealing with relentless pressure. 

So I was running on fumes. Chances are, you can relate to having no energy and dragging yourself through the day.

And even though my food choices improved a lot from about 2010 onwards, before that I was grabbing a lot of ready meals, takeaways, and canteen food because I was tired and didn’t prioritise nutrition as much as I should have. I didn’t know any better. That was before I became a nutritionist.

Have you ever heard of moral injury?

As well as burnout, I also suffered from moral injury. According to Syracuse University, “Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs, values, or ethical codes of conduct.”

While working in mainstream medicine, the more I learned how our dietary guidelines were causing chronic ill health in people of all ages, the more I felt tugged in different directions. 

It became obvious that the best way to manage most chronic illness is to get to the root cause. Then rather than using drugs to suppress their symptoms, support people in changing their: 

  • diets, 
  • behaviours, and 
  • toxic exposures.

But I felt very isolated in these beliefs in the framework of the NHS. None of my colleagues had even heard about functional medicine, let alone studied it to any degree. More’s the pity. Because I know they’d be awesome at it. And as my understanding of the role nutrition plays in health and disease evolved, it conflicted with what I and my colleagues, as well as the dietetics staff, had been taught. 

Which in turn led to a mountain of stress for me and confusion for the families I worked with.

Could you be suffering from moral injury?

Over the last few years, I’ve realised that moral injury is prevalent amongst my clients and friends. But it’s under-recognised. 

So if you feel frustrated, angry or guilty about not having the resources or time to serve the people who need your support, you could be suffering from moral injury. 

If you feel like some aspect of your job can or does affect the mental, physical or emotional health or the freedom, autonomy or quality of life of someone else and that clashes with your moral compass, then moral injury may be contributing to your stress levels. 

To compensate, you might find yourself spending extra unpaid hours in work so you’re not cutting corners.

Just when I started to discover the role my joint flexibility was playing in my health, I made a decision that knocked me right back.

During my sick leave, I also discovered I have an inherited genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – Hypermobility Type (EDS-HT). EDS is a type of connective tissue disorder. It’s supposed to be rare. People with it tend to be very flexible, especially when younger. But we’re also at increased risk from a bunch of chronic health conditions. 

EDS helped explain most of my symptoms. As part of the investigations for this, I had my first (and only) MRI scan with gadolinium contrast. 

Worst. Mistake. Ever. 

I started dealing with side effects caused by the contrast toxicity within a few hours… You can find out more about my experiences here. Now several years later, it still impacts my health. Although I’m doing so much better. 

In fact, now I feel pretty normal most of the time. But I have to be very strict about my diet and lifestyle these days. And listen to my body.

But back when I had my MRI with contrast, there were no solutions on offer from conventional medicine. In fact, mainstream medicine was (and still is) so far behind the research in this area my doctors couldn’t even figure out who to refer me to.

I’ve written a book.

So I decided to write an ebook about MRI contrast toxicity. It’s called “Contrasts: More than meets the MRI. Demystifying the devastating damage due to gadolinium contrasts and some natural steps you can take to reverse those dreadful effects using diet and lifestyle.” I’ve also created a short free guide to MRI contrast toxicity, which you can download here.

Even if you’ve never had an MRI with contrast, you should read the free guide now. Because chances are, you’ll be offered one at some point. And when that happens, you’ll need to have as much information at your disposal as you can get to make an informed decision.

When I was starting on my journey to recovery from gadolinium toxicity, there were almost no healing stories. And I felt hopeless for a while. But if you’re starting out on this odyssey, I want you to know that people are getting their lives and their health back. And so can you.  

My nutritionist training helped me turn a corner.

Thankfully, my interest in functional medicine, Cambridge University medical education and nutritionist training, as well as the support and guidance of people in many support groups, meant that I was able to McGyver a recovery strategy. 

The underlying principles for this strategy also work for other people with contrast-induced side effects and hypermobility. As well as people with chronic fatigue, burnout and chronic illness in general. 

Oh. And they also got my acne under control after suffering from my early teens right through my best adult years. Even my acne scars (thanks, EDS for those) are less obvious now. 

And my cellulite seems to have reduced a fair bit, too. Which was unexpected, but super interesting. I’m not complaining. Don’t ask me why it improved. I have theories, but I don’t know for sure.

Plus my periods are soooooo much better than they used to be. Wish a nutritionist had told me about all this stuff as soon as I hit puberty. Boy, would I have made a lot of different decisions!

I’m also a lightning rod for other flexible people. Most of them have no idea that their bendiness is what’s colloquially called being double-jointed. Let alone that this is why they’re much more likely to suffer from chronic fatigue, pain, depression, and anxiety. And why they seem to be much more vulnerable to toxicity from MRI contrasts, other heavy metals, food intolerances, and more.

"We can’t really give what we don’t have. You’ve got to have a full, beautiful inner life that is for no-one else but you in order to give to anyone else. And you’ve got to ask for what you need. " quote by Brené Brown

My education

The small town I grew up in is called Maghera. And I went to school in Magherafelt, which is also in Mid Ulster. My classmates came from the neighbouring towns, like Draperstown, Moneymore, Cookstown, Swatragh, Antrim, Portglenone, Randalstown and surrounding areas. We attended grammar school.

When I was at school, I came first in art at GCSE level. I also did A-level art. Truth be told, I always wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I didn’t grow up wanting to become a nutritionist or even a doctor. And now when people I went to school with run into me, they always ask if I still draw. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I rarely do any more. Don’t have the time between working as a nutritionist, trying to develop new nutrition and lifestyle programmes, maintain a blog, and learn new stuff.

My medical training

I left Northern Ireland when I went to university to study preclinical medicine at Cambridge in England. That was quite an experience. Very full-on. But now I have an MA from Cambridge University. 

When I was in Cambridge, I learned how to row. Let’s be very clear, I never rowed for Cambridge University. But most people who attend Cambridge take up rowing for their colleges. And I’m not sporty at all. I was a bookworm and arty-farty growing up.

Then I went to Queen’s University in Belfast to complete my clinical medical training. My very first job was in Tyrone County Hospital the year after the Omagh bombing atrocity. 

By a twist of fate, going to Cambridge meant that I automatically had to spend an extra year training (which is sort of why I now have a Masters and most doctors don’t. Although it’s actually just a weird Oxbridge thing). 

So my medical training was 6 years instead of 5. This meant that I graduated from Queen’s in Belfast a year after the other folks who studied medicine from my year in school who’d gone straight to Belfast. So if I’d done my entire medical training in Belfast, I would have been working in Omagh when that bomb went off. I can only hope I would have done as good a job as the staff there did. But I’m grateful I will never know.

Health challenges don't just affect individuals. They have profound impacts on families, and even communities.

Here are some of the things I’ve done to learn about nutrition and lifestyle

Over more than a decade, I have gone to the sort of lengths most people have neither the opportunity, time, nor the desire to do. These include: 

  • Nutritionist training through the Dublin-based Institute of Health Sciences to become a nutrition and lifestyle coach, 
  • Attending summits, conferences, seminars, and masterclasses,
  • Learning from people from all over the world in Facebook groups,
  • Being sent interesting articles by friends who are also interested in health, gadolinium toxicity, fitness, lifestyle, and herbalism (thank you so much, guys. Keep ‘em coming). Many of these amazing people live in Northern Ireland or other parts of the UK. But because we are now so connected, I’ve been able to exchange information with people all over the world, including Canada, the USA, Europe, New Zealand and Australia,
  • Digging into the scientific literature to piece together what might work and what probably won’t,
  • Reading countless books on diet, mitochondria and metabolism, lifestyle, depression, stress, exercise, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Alzheimer’s, coaching, mindset, toxicity, weight loss, weight management (because a lot of people after gadolinium contrasts experience frightening weight loss and muscle loss [cachexia and sarcopenia] and don’t want to lose any more), the metabolic approach to cancer, learning, creativity, farming, and God only knows what else,
  • Being asked some tough questions and getting a lot of feedback from clients, and
  • Experimenting with my own diet, supplements, and lifestyle.

However, lots of nutritionists are drawn to nutrition and lifestyle as a career choice because of their own health struggles.

The relevant practical stuff from my medical career

On top of that, there was my extensive paediatric and neonatal training as a doctor throughout Northern Ireland. This taught me how to save lives in an emergency. And I worked everywhere from Belfast in the east to Derry in the west. From Antrim and Coleraine in the north to Newry and Craigavon in the south of Northern Ireland. 

On reflection, emergency and acute medicine use identical principles to functional medicine. These are getting to the root cause of an illness or emergency and supporting sick people’s physiology naturally. 

In hospitals, they use high doses of nutrients, oxygen, fluids, blood products, and hormones. They also use other methods like therapeutic cooling and mechanical ventilation. All these foundations of advanced life support are the true big-hitters in healthcare. And they’re responsible for many of the lives saved. These sorts of strategies also form the cornerstone of functional medicine.

The drugs they prescribe are often derived from fungi, bacteria and herbs. These are the origins of most of our modern antibiotics, pain killers, clot-busting drugs, and even drugs to treat heart arrhythmias. Do you know which of the most commonly prescribed classes of drugs for high blood pressure is derived from snake venom? (Spoiler alert: It’s ACE inhibitors)

Don’t believe me? You can check out the Advanced Life Support (ALS) algorithms. All clinical staff who work in any aspect of acute medicine have to retrain in ALS every few years.

My point is that what works to save lives in hospitals uses the same approaches I and other nutrition experts in functional medicine, nutritional therapy, naturopathic medicine, exercise physiology, health coaching, and health and fitness use.

One of the many insightful things Brené Brown has said is:

We can’t really give what we don’t have. You’ve got to have a full, beautiful inner life that is for no-one else but you in order to give to anyone else. And you’ve got to ask for what you need. And that is the biggest gift you’ll give your children… is letting them observe your path to wholeness. And you’re going to terrify some people with your authenticity. But man, will you feel alive.  
 You’re on a journey towards wholeness. So don’t look at it as selfishness, see it as making yourself whole.

This resonates so much with me. Particularly since I struggled to find the energy to look after myself properly when I was burning out.

But I know that many professionals, especially women, also struggle with this. 

For that reason, I’ve created a free resource for overworked professionals. It’s called “Addictively easy activities for self-care you can do right now!” And you can download it here.

I hope you find this guide super helpful. Perhaps it’s the little push you need to put the wheels in motion that will set you on a different path in life. One that brings you less pressure, less work, better health, and more precious time with your family and friends.

I know most people accessing it will be able to get stuck straight in and start making some great changes. Which is awesome! After all, that’s why I created it.

But for some people, changing can be a bit harder. 

Scratch that. Change is almost always difficult. Even when it’s something that you really want. And despite it being something you know you have to do. Change can be intimidating, even when it’s exciting. 

And research shows that motivation can drop off precipitously after your initial excitement wears off. Right about the time when overwhelm tends to start sneaking up on you.

No wonder some people know that they do better when they have someone to hold them accountable for making changes. 

And some of us need a bit of extra hand-holding for support. Because it’s so much easier to change when you know you’ve got allies. Ideally, you’ll find family members, friends, colleagues, and people in your community who can cheer you on. But not everyone is so fortunate. 

And that’s why having a coach to help is the right decision for some people

Or maybe what you need is to spend time delving into exactly how and why you should make changes. But you don’t know where to start.

Or maybe what you need is to spend time delving into exactly how and why you should make changes. But you don’t know where to start.

This can be especially true when it comes to your nutrition. There is so much conflicting information out there about what to eat and what to avoid. It’s easy to end up confused. 

Plus diet often needs to be personalised. 

What works well for one person may not work well for someone else. So working with a nutritionist can help you identify the right diet choices for you.

Or the diet that you used to thrive on stops working well for you either suddenly or gradually. Truth be told, that’s what happened to me after my gadolinium toxicity experience when the paleo/primal diet template I’d been following for the previous 6 years suddenly wasn’t enough. 

But it took me several years to work out how to alter it for gadolinium and heavy metal toxicity, autoimmunity, connective tissue disorders/Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and new food intolerances. And I still tweak things now and again.

So even as a trained nutritionist, I often come across ideas that make me challenge some of the things I’ve been taught. Nutrition science moves fast. It’s fascinating and exciting. At the end of the day, self-experimentation is often more insightful than lab testing.

So now, I use something more like an autoimmune protocol diet but with a much bigger focus on medicinal mushrooms and a lower carbohydrate intake. Plus I take a bunch of medicinal herbs, several of which are also culinary herbs. And a lot of supplements to protect the brain and organs, and boost metabolism and mitochondrial function.

Here’s what my client, Susan Prentice who’s suffered from fibromyalgia for 15 years, had to say about working with me:

“I and my husband have both changed as he is eating the same as me. We have more energy, a routine again, clear skin, (proper bowel movements!) Plus losing weight, which wasn’t actually a big goal. I have a life, I’m able to go out and have even gone swimming with my mum and sister. Which is unheard of!! I HAVE A LIFE AGAIN!!!”
Susan Prentice
from Bangor, Northern Ireland

To be fair, Susan and her husband threw their hearts and souls into making the right changes. All I did was guide them. They deserve all the great results they’ve been getting and more. I guess this illustrates how important the right guidance is when you want to improve your health.

Find out more about my nutrition and lifestyle coaching services

Stuff that I would suck at…

It’s just as well my zone of genius is in helping people with chronic illness recover, even when conventional medicine has written them off. If I had to work in most other fields, like social media marketing, working in the tech industry, as a product manager, working in law as a solicitor or barrister, or working in the financial industry I’d be sunk! 

But maybe I’d have made it as a graphic designer. Although, I was slower than a snail on weed at producing art. So maybe not.

How my friends and family describe me.

My friends would probably describe me as a driven professional nutritionist with some perfectionist tendencies. 

They’d also likely describe me as quirky with an obsession with health and food. And the band Muse. I’m not sure which order they’d rank those obsessions.

Once, I did one of those strength-finding exercises where you email your friends and colleagues and ask them what your greatest strengths are. You know the ones I mean. The commonest reply was I’m a know-it-all. Not really. They actually said my depth of knowledge was my top strength. 

That's what I do. I drink and I know things

Only gadolinium toxicity is the party-pooper that’s put an end to the drinking part. And I always was a light-weight. Now I’ll have tiny amounts of alcohol on occasion. Because it takes me weeks to recover from a glass of wine.

My mum once described me as sounding like a walking encyclopaedia. But it’s only specifically when it comes to health, nutrition, supplements, lifestyle, paediatrics, and gadolinium contrasts. 

Weird trivia you don’t actually need to know about me.

I keep buying self-help books. Only I rarely actually finish reading them. There’s too much stuff to learn, you know?

I’ve ridden an ostrich. Shortly after it mistook the beads at the end of my braids for corn and tried to eat them. They’re very fast. And they’re enormous birds. But not as big as elephants. Which reminds me…

I’ve also ridden an elephant. And a camel. 

When I was a baby, I was bitten by a monkey. As a result, I now have a secret superhero identity… I don’t really. It wasn’t a radioactive monkey.

But getting bitten by animals seems to be a recurring theme. Because when I was a bit older, I stuck my hand in a donkey’s mouth and got bitten by it, too. It’s a wonder I still have all my fingers. No, I’m not now Donkey Girl. Or Super Ass. Although I think that would be a great superhero moniker.

My aunt thinks I was bitten by a snake as well. But mum says I wasn’t. 

There are no wild snakes in Ireland.

I have a reputation for managing to find innuendo in almost anything. Is it deserved? Well… It’s hard to keep up 😜.

Don’t talk to me about spiders. Please. There’s no need for any animal to have that many legs. Of course, octopi and squid are super cool with all their legs. And millipedes are just goofy with all their wee legs. OK. Maybe it’s not the legs. But giant spiders just aren’t right.

My general knowledge sucks. In pub quizzes, I’m embarrassingly clueless during the sports rounds.

I grew up in Northern Ireland, which is where Game of Thrones was produced. 

I’ve never been on Game of Thrones.

When I was a doctor, I learned how to surf… badly. 

I broke a finger once while surfing and didn’t notice. Then worked for a week with an unsplinted broken finger. By the middle of the week, the swelling had gone down enough for me to realise I couldn’t move that fingertip. But I was on the rota to work nights that weekend. So I left going to A&E until 8 days after the injury so as not to shaft my colleagues. In my defence, a broken finger isn’t anywhere near as painful as bad period pains.

You ought to see my tan lines. They make farmers jealous. I tan so fast you can almost watch it happen. But that’s not an invitation. Just an observation. 

“What would the Hadza do?” is what I usually think when faced with a conundrum about how to approach a health problem. The Hadza are a tribe of hunter-gatherers living in Tanzania. I’d love to visit them and learn first-hand about their cooking, eating and lifestyle. But above all, I want to know what they smell like and whether they make deodorant. For real… how can you not be curious about that?

Find out about my own journey with gadolinium toxicity

What’s on the horizon?

Right now, I’m co-creating a group coaching experience for professionals suffering from or at risk of burnout. I’m doing this along with health and fitness expert, Byron Clarke. I hope you won’t get as far down the path to burnout as I did. But even if you have, we’ve got you covered. I’ll let you know when you’ll be able to enrol so you don’t miss out.

How you can work with me

And if you need some extra support, it’s simple to get in touch with me about 1-to-1 coaching.

In fact, why hesitate? Schedule a free clarity call with me today. It’s so easy and you’ve nothing to lose. Here’s the link: https://calendly.com/thefoodphoenix/discovery-call

You know deep down you can’t keep going like this.

“And suddenly you know: It's time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”

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