• Lisa Kowalyk

The Power of a moment- why I do what I do.

Updated: Jun 10

I believe in full transparency, and I will be the first to admit I have no idea how I ended up in the career I am in. I know for certain though, that I didn’t choose it- it chose me.

I find it hard to describe to people what exactly it is I do, even with a Nutritionist designation- I can’t seem to fit into a box. I have no elevator speech. My career is eclectic- I am a science/medical writer, I work for various nutraceutical companies, I have a slightly renegade consulting practice and I co-founded a company that educates other practitioners. I spend my days travelling and learning about mind-body medicine and learning the traditional medicines of cultures around the world, so that my career is just as diverse as my personality.

After graduating from Nutrition school, a program that I applied for on a whim- disregarding my dream of grad school and that alluring PhD- I had a grand vision. I was going to specialize in sports nutrition, infiltrate the big leagues- land a contract with the Vancouver Canucks. Have a lush office, a luxurious lifestyle, never take my work home.


But.. the universe had other plans for me, my first real job after school rerouted my planned trajectory. It gave me a crash course in a world I didn’t even know existed, connected me with mentors, clients and minds that lifted the smoke screen I looked at life through. Although I am in the infancy of my career- I’ve already had my defining moment that solidified my path in this life. That lit a fire in me, that brought a flawed system and the pain it causes into my awareness. This story is the of why I do what I do.

I was working at a natural pharmacy right out of school and a man came in with a bladder infection that wouldn’t go away. At this point in my career, I wasn’t as jaded with the conventional medical system so it never occurred to me to ask more questions. He said the doctors diagnosed him with a UTI, then of course, it must be a UTI. He had very little money, he didn’t have a home and often didn’t know where he would be sleeping on any given night. I had a lot of guilt selling this man supplements because nothing was working. Despite his low budget, he was in so much pain he was willing to do anything to get better so he found a way to make it work.

One day, he came back in, defeated after another failed remedy. I had given him compounds for both types of bacteria that can cause a UTI, and decided that his must be extra resistant and I needed a more tailored approach. I asked him what bacteria they found in his urine, because that would help me make a better decision, to which he replied... they didn’t find any bacteria.

Boom. There it was. The shift. I had the type of reaction when everything slows down a little, palms get sweaty, and you feel a little dizzy- visceral, like when you hear bad news.

This man was prescribed antibiotics off and on for 6 months for a UTI that did not exist. This man had been spending money that he did not have on herbs and supplements to treat something that did not exist. This man had been in pain and discomfort for 6 months. This man was under added stress for 6 months. This man was disregarded by the medical system, because he didn’t fit into the symptom/disease model taught in medical schools, he was disregarded because he didn’t have the power to advocate for himself.

[PS- for context, one round of antibiotics can negatively impact the gut flora (where 80% of the immune system resides) for 4 years. A concept even the most skeptical MD has since learned to adopt. ]

I asked him a few more questions and instantly knew what was going on. One of the hardest things I’ve done in my career was to convince that man to buy a supplement I knew he couldn’t afford. I knew it meant that he might not eat that night or that week, and I wasn’t 100% confident that it was the right choice. It’s one of the first times I followed my intuition in a work situation. Among many other defining lessons I learned from this situation, I learned to always tap into my intuition, because both it and science have a place in medicine.

The emotions I felt after that day were intense. I felt heartbroken for this man, I felt angry that the medical system disregarded him, I felt defeated by the system. I felt guilty because I sold this man something and it might not work. I had this deep sadness, this anxiety that I was in over my head- that I couldn’t help this man and he would be let down once again. And I knew in my heart that this wasn't a unique situation.

A week later he came back in, and he told me, without holding back his tears that this was the least amount of pain that he had been in, in 6 months. That he felt about an 80% improvement. And all it took was 6 months of doctors’ visits, multiple courses of wrongly prescribed antibiotics, 4 questions from a new grad and a 20-dollar supplement. When I think about that moment, I still get teary eyed.

I never intended to be an advocate, I never intended to get so fired up, to sink into this world. Somedays, that lush office and sports nutrition career seem real appealing. But here I am. I do this for the man with the non-existent UTI. I do the work I do for the people who are given a life changing diagnosis but not the full spectrum of options. For the people who leave the doctor’s office feeling defeated instead of empowered. I do this work because science and the medical system both favor profits and prestige over health. I do this work because corporations use disease to make sales, like A & W uses MS as a marketing technique – as if fast food doesn’t contribute to every single chronic disease. Because of the pink washing that happens every October in support of breast cancer marketing carcinogens as part of the solution. I do this work for every person who has died from cancer, that didn’t need to. To everyone who was pushed into chemotherapy or given pharmaceuticals despite the low success rate, and for every person who couldn’t afford the treatments not offered by conventional medicine. I do this for all the people who have to leave the country to get treatments because they aren’t allowed to be practiced in Canada. I do this work because I live in a democratic country, yet in my short career I’ve seen supplements banned as soon as it reaches mainstream attention that they work. I do this work for every single person who has gone into remission from their disease and had an MD or specialist tell them they must have had a wrong diagnosis.

Since my interaction with this man, I have worked with countless others who have been thrown around the conventional medical system. Most of them come to me (or alternative medicine) after they’ve exhausted their conventional options, as a last resort. It doesn’t have to be like that. So what do I do? In every role I have in my career, I educate. I provide the full spectrum of options, I explain disease. I hold your hand and help you to remember your power.

Have a new diagnosis? Been swimming upstream for the past while? Reach out, there are options, I promise. My consultations don’t cost a dime, unless you want them to because every person deserves to know their full range of options- and more than 15 minutes of a doctor’s time.

PS- this isn’t to say that conventional medicine doesn’t have its place. I respect and honour conventional medicine while recognizing that it is only piece of a very large pie- just as the work I and my colleagues do is only one piece of the pie.


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© 2020 by Lisa Kowalyk.