Erin Pitkethly worked as a pharmacist for over twenty years. But the North Bay, Canada-based pharmacist was becoming frustrated with the medications and treatment plans prescribed for patients with type 2 diabetes. She knew there were options for people with diabetes, beyond insulin, and she felt it was wrong to not be addressing the root of people’s heath issues: diet. Eventually Pitkethly decided to open a clinic, Robinsong Health, where she could teach people about a low carb diet that can help to reverse type 2 diabetes, enable weight loss, treat fatty liver disease and manage pain.
Pitkethly’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
I had been a pharmacist for 20 years when I started my business. I was very frustrated seeing clients with type 2 diabetes only getting worse year to year, often succumbing to complications such as amputation and blindness. I am the sort of person who would rather approach a medical issue by getting to the root of the problem and none of the medications for diabetes does this adequately. When I learned that a low carb diet could be beneficial, not only in reversing type 2 diabetes, but also helping with chronic pain and inflammation, polycystic ovarian syndrome and the infertility that comes with that, fatty liver disease, and chronic headaches, I knew I wanted to offer this as an option for people. As a pharmacist, I was in a unique position to help, since I could manage clients’ medications as well as help them with nutrition. I took a number of courses on nutrition and low carb and then I opened the first pharmacist-led whole foods low carb clinic in North America.
For me success is seeing people improve their health. Clients are so excited when they can stop giving themselves daily insulin injections. It is truly life changing. People who couldn’t exercise because of pain and inflammation are active again, participating more in their family life. It’s great when people come for one thing and see an improvement in another aspect of health. For example I have a lady who came to me for weight loss. She has had great success with that, but she is just as excited about having her daily headaches stop and seeing a reversal in symptoms of PCOS. We have to stop seeing people as one symptom or condition and treat them as a whole person, understanding that the root cause of many illnesses lies in our highly processed North American diet. Success for me is helping people get healthier.
My biggest success to date is probably an older lady who came off of her insulin fairly quickly- within one month. She has lost a significant amount of weight. And she is a big supporter now of the low carb diet. She is truly the sweetest lady, but I remember one of her first appointments after stopping insulin, she came in and was angry. She was mad that no one had ever told her before that she could manage her type 2 diabetes by eating differently. She was angry that she had been told by health care providers to eat more carbs and that as a result she had been injecting insulin for many years. A few months later she was hospitalized for an unrelated issue and she was very upset when the food she was given was high carb. She said she lectured anyone who would listen- from the nurses to the dietary staff– about her new approach to nutrition and how it helped her. I have so many great success stories. It’s hard to pick just one!
My goal for my business is to have my services offered as a choice whenever people have a diagnosis or worsening of symptoms of type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, fatty liver disease or PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). I would love to grow the company and hire more pharmacists to help people manage their medications as they adopt a low carb lifestyle. I would like for more physicians to understand how low carb can help their patients. This is starting to happen as patients return to their physicians for check-ups and have significantly improved blood work and weight loss.
My biggest challenge is the lack of knowledge in the medical community about low carb diet. Although there are many excellent scientific papers supporting the use of low carb for everything from MS to fatty liver to diabetes to weight loss, most physicians, nurse practitioners and dieticians are not aware of the benefits and many have out-dated knowledge which leads them to believe it is unhealthy or unsafe. This is something all practitioners in the low carb community face and it’s something we are all working towards changing.
Before launching my business I experienced a period of burn out and depression. I was unable to work as a pharmacist for a while, knowing that the medications I was giving out were not the best course of action for many people’s health. It felt wrong to not at least give people the option of improving their health instead of medicating a problem that could be improved or reversed. I was off work for 5 months. I eventually returned to pharmacy but then decided to start a clinic to offer people the chance to improve their health.
My most important role model is my mentor Dr. Bourdua-Roy. She took a chance on opening a low carb clinic in a small town in Quebec and now has a number of low carb clinics teaching people how to improve their health. She was reported to the College of Physicians by a dietician who objected to her using low carb but she fought the complaint and was subsequently exonerated. Her work in low carb is really a labor of love that she does in addition to having a busy medical practice and a young family. She has spoken at international low carb clinics and is a really great advocate for the movement for low carb therapeutic nutrition. Like me, she belongs to the advocacy group Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition.