Jen's Healing Story
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
“...I've learned that the number-one factor that influences how I feel from day to day is the food I eat.”
We’re all healing from something. It’s a constant process. Life throws physical and emotional trauma our way. Little things like colds and arguments. Huge things like battling cancer or losing a loved one. At the cellular level, our brains and bodies need certain things to heal: time, of course; rest, a necessary component; support from friends and loved ones; and food. Real food. Food that nourishes the body and mind, giving it the nutrients it needs to carry out the processes that keep us happy and healthy.
I never saw the connection between how I ate and how I felt. When I was younger, food wasn’t nutrition, it was calories. It was something you put in your stomach so you didn’t feel hungry. If you ate too few calories, you’d want more food. If you ate too many, you’d gain weight. When I was a kid, butter was bad; margarine was better. Mayo was out; Miracle Whip was in. Eggs had too much cholesterol and avocados were fatty. Growing up, we often ate convenience food. My mom was raising three (often picky) kids while going to night school; she knew about nutrition and did the best she could, but food often came from a package, a box, or a hamburger wrapper. When I was old enough to make my own food decisions, I made terrible ones. In high school I’d stop at the Future Business Leaders of America’s store outside the cafeteria every day and get some Sprees or a 100 Grand bar to top off the breaded chicken sandwich or mini pizza I’d just eaten. Round about time for my afternoon study hall the headache would set in, and climbing the stairs was a chore.
In college, I’d eat cereal for breakfast (sometimes sprinkled with copious amounts of sugar); I’d frequently eat a Rice Krispie treat and some chocolate milk for lunch from the convenient little snack stand on the ground floor of the building where my classes were held. Dinner was often Hamburger Helper, Rice-a-Roni, fish sticks (with mayo on white bread, no less), or cheap frozen turkey pot pie. I’d stop by the soda machine and get a Dr. Pepper or a Mountain Dew so I could keep awake for my afternoon classes, a constant struggle. When I think back to those years as an undergrad, I remember having to literally prop my eyes open in the afternoon, and I took ibuprofen like candy to control the headaches I’d get around 2 or 3 o’clock every day. I never connected any of this to food.
It was my husband who started me on my real food journey. He’d always liked cooking but his talent bloomed when he started watching cooking shows. It was he who suggested we replace the big brown tub of Country Crock with real butter, and he who decided eggs, bacon, and avocados were not the evil foods they’d been made out to be. He started cooking with actual ingredients rather than from a package and made some delicious food. It became important in our house to make things from scratch, and we both started to cook from recipes instead of from a box. I stopped wanting to fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon, but I still suffered from headaches, sometimes debilitating, often daily, always in the afternoon or evening. My seasonal allergies were terrible.
I suspected something was going on with my body in my late twenties. The headaches, the allergies, constipation, losing hair, skin issues, temperature fluctuations, extreme sugar cravings, fatigue, and anxiety riddled my days. I wanted to figure it out, but all the tests the doctors ran were normal. Nothing was wrong. My headaches continued, and the only way to get rid of them was to take ibuprofen and some caffeine (I found Classic Coke the easiest delivery method), add a cold compress, and lie down. Some days I couldn’t even drive home from work; a friend would have to take me or my husband retrieve me. Any time I traveled I knew a headache would be triggered so I had ibuprofen with me. To top it off, I ended up in the hospital overnight once due to an irregular heart rhythm that didn’t correct itself. The doctors said I was having pre-ventricular contractions (PVCs) but they didn’t know what was causing this issue. I was put on medication that had the terrible side effect of making me feel like I was wading through Jell-O. Getting through the fatigue and struggle of every day was awful. I weaned myself off this medication and just learned to deal with the PVCs; I learned how to startle my heart back into a regular rhythm by coughing or bearing down.
I started learning more about food when I began to think about preparing my body for pregnancy. It was the first time I’d really thought about nutrition and what the body might need to grow a healthy baby. I started being more mindful about what I ate; if I consumed something, I’d imagine every molecule of it spreading throughout every cell of my body, including every cell of baby’s. That made it easy to avoid artificial sweeteners and artificial food dyes. I started avoiding fast food and stopped drinking soda. My diet was still fairly Standard American, but I’d cleaned it up a lot since the days of sugared cereal for breakfast and Rice Krispie treats for lunch!
My symptoms of headaches, allergies, hair loss, constipation, skin issues, temperature fluctuations, extreme sugar cravings, fatigue, and anxiety continued through my adulthood. I felt something was wrong but didn’t know how to fix it—and neither did any of my doctors. In my late thirties, after the birth of my second child, I finally saw a doctor who had researched his own thyroid disorders and knew what to look for when I explained all my symptoms. He suspected Hashimoto’s thyroiditis; blood tests confirmed it. He suggested a mostly paleo diet and several supplements, and the number one thing he said I must do right away is give up gluten-containing grains. So I did. I began taking a natural thyroid medication, got the supplements he recommended, and went gluten-free. I immediately began to have fewer sugar cravings, less anxiety, improved concentration, and most of all, fewer headaches. In fact, all my symptoms were alleviated to some degree. Since I went gluten-free and mostly dairy free, my headaches are few and far between instead of a daily occurrence; I can usually trace them to a food infraction. I’m—ahem—regular, which I’d never been before. My anxiety and seasonal allergies are under control. And those PVCs? Gone. After my daughter’s birth I was having very frequent PVCs and went to a heart specialist very near the time I visited the thyroid specialist. He scheduled a 36-hour heart monitor to see how many PVCs I was having in a day, but I never went in to get the monitor because after starting the thyroid medication and changing my diet, the PVCs stopped! I rarely have them now.
I’ve learned that the number-one factor that influences how I feel from day to day is the food I eat. Sleep, exercise, and stress reduction are so important, but it truly starts with food. I feel my best when I eat a clean paleo diet with lots of vegetables. I’ve remained gluten-free to my knowledge, but if other grains, dairy, or sugar creep back in, I notice symptoms returning—anxiety, headaches, bloating, fatigue. To be the best mother, wife, friend, and human being I can, I have to make sure my body gets what it needs. Not calories. Nutrients.
I’m not perfect. Taking care of myself and my family can be a struggle. If I had to do it on my own, I might not make it. I’d succumb to what is easy and immediately gratifying rather than what I know my body and brain need. But luckily I have a family who supports me, and I’ve found a community of people who make it easier to do what’s right. Seeing my two young children grow and thrive--and being able to keep up with them--makes it all worth it! With my friends at Our Healing Kitchens, I’d like to share what I’ve learned, to learn more things to share, and to be a part of your healing journey. Thanks for reading!