Excellent health, incredible energy and stamina, and a zest for life blessed me for 26 years. Very few days of school or work were missed due to ill health, and when the occasional sickness occurred, healing quickly followed. With such a dependable immune system, I never worried over quality of food, hours slept, or administration of self-care — all components integral to good health.
In my 26th year of life, however, all of that changed. A slow and steady downward decline into chronic illness had begun; which presented panic attacks, followed by autoimmune disease, and a Lyme diagnosis. My symptoms ranged from neurological symptoms like brain swelling, vertigo, and migraines to cardiac symptoms and all over malaise. During panic attacks I would feel extremely nauseous and overstimulated by sounds and visual stimuli, and I would often need to leave public spaces to go home.
Finally, an unrecoverable crash, where I became very ill and unable to drive or leave the house often. The neuro symptoms were the worst followed by constant weakness, bone-crushing fatigue and flu-like symptoms. I have received over 20 different diagnoses from a variety of healthcare specialists. But ultimately, between food choices, pregnancies, and life stresses, my body finally gave up and stopped finding homeostasis.
Luckily, my spirit found strength where my body found weakness. The past three years have been spent seeking, digging, praying, sorting, researching, crying, and nourishing my way back to stability.
Along the way my focus shifted onto the power of food and its ability to heal. I learned that the Standard American Diet has created problems, which reveal themselves in any number of symptoms ranging from autoimmune disease to blood sugar irregularities to high cholesterol to depression and anxiety. In this discovery and quest for natural healing, I realized that if I wanted to heal, I would need to be the key player in my wellness. Even doctors with the best intentions could not care for me on a molecular level, only I could do that. In fact, my doctors never even suggested making dietary changes; it was something I investigated on my own over many months of research. Because I was already gluten free from my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, I thought I was eating “healthy,” but it wasn’t until I gave up many other things that something shifted.
I started by transitioning from just gluten free (which I had been for years) to grain free. Then I removed dairy after that. Slowly but surely my food choices became cleaner and smarter, and I found that a Paleo diet was the key to feeling better. The cob webs started to lift and over the following months I became much less housebound and much more lifebound. The brain swelling, weakness, malaise, flu-like symptoms, and vertigo are mostly resolved. Now if I have a flare-up, it tends to be much more subdued and short lived.
The process has taken time and I have had to learn how to deal with life’s stresses much differently. I tend to take on too much in an effort to make up for the time I spent being unproductive. But when I take on too many responsibilities (like writing four books in a year and a half!), I can easily become overstressed and battle headaches and fatigue. Saying no is something I’m still working on and sometimes, unfortunately, still learning the hard way.
I may always be a work in progress; but for now I have literally been brought back to life through nutrient dense foods. My goal is to share my story, share my journey, and share my recipes in hopes that others who are struggling may find life again as well.
On a lighter note, I never knew how to cook. I met my husband barely able to boil water and really did not learn how to cook from scratch (or whole foods) until after I became very ill. Family and friends can confirm that I was nothing short of a disaster in the kitchen! I am probably best known for my work in creating yuca dough, a delicious versatile dough made from yuca root (cassava). With it, I have made pierogies, empanadas, egg rolls and even desserts. I am also known for recreating traditional favorites that are off limits — my Legit Bread tastes like real sandwich bread and toasts beautifully. It’s a recipe I’m really proud of because it has brought sandwiches back into the lives of many who had to sacrifice them. So to those of you who feel like it isn’t possible to teach an old dog new tricks, this old dog learned a few and it has made all the difference in the world!
I thought for so many years while sick that I was done creating, producing, and contributing to the world. I am a mom to three young kids and I had a lot of guilt about not being enough for them. It’s still something that I struggle with sometimes but now feeling better, I am really proud of how I have been able to grow, not just with writing books or creating recipes, but by building a community of people who I am lucky enough to help, and who coincidentally are helping each other as well. I want to continue to give back and to show people that regardless of circumstance, healing is possible and that we hold more keys to our own healing than we realize!
Check out Jennifer’s book, The Paleo Kids Cookbook: Transition Your Family to Delicious Grain- and Gluten-free Food for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating, for advice and recipes!
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Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.