Why I’m Gluten Free (and more)…

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I was sick and tired.  

And sick and tired of being sick and tired!

I almost lost my life to poor health…

but I’m blessed to share that I now have a whole new life in good health!  My heart’s desire to SHARE this same blessing with YOU!  

Anyone can receive and enjoy the gift of good health through wellness eating.

Jen Cuevas

My name is Jennifer Cuevas, and I’m the founder of The Gluten & Grain Free Gourmet LLC.  

I’m sharing my story below with the hope that it will help others who are struggling with health issues and may not be finding answers from their doctors.  

Were there clues in my childhood?

My journey to an unhealthy place seemed to begin early in life, although nobody knew it at the time.  

As an infant, my mother told me that my skin always had a “sweet smell” to it; as mom to four daughters, she noticed that this was something different about me in comparison to my sisters (I mention this because it’s come to my attention that this has occurred with others).

As a young child, I remember a few things very distinctively:  1) I was a VERY picky eater; 2) I often had tummy aches and ear infections; and 3) I didn’t like things that most other kids liked (hot dogs, pizza, or even chocolate)…but I LOVED candy.  

I didn’t like healthy things either, and I didn’t really like anything that was served at the dinner table…but I sure loved cereal.  Anything and everything with sugar on top.  Donuts, pastries, and cookies were more than just a “treat” to me…they were virtually the only things I liked.  As a leader for Weight Watcher’s, my mom did her best to keep those types of things out of the house; however, the more she kept them at bay, the more it seemed that I would seek them from anywhere I could.  

I frequently came down with ear infections; I’d wake up in the middle of the night with piercing pain, and the next morning we’d head off to the doctor’s office.  Unable to swallow pills, I took liquid antibiotics for on and off for several years.  I had tubes placed in my ears at the age of six.  My tonsils were removed and finally my adenoids, and then the tubes were taken out.  

I was also forever being rushed to the bathroom from a young age due to an upset stomach.  I’m not sure which came first – the aching belly, or the deep anxiety that I experienced as a four year old.  In my family, I was known for ALWAYS visiting the restroom if we went anywhere for lunch or dinner.  My tummy always hurt, it seemed.

As I grew older, I began to earn an allowance.  On any given day after school, you would have caught me spending it all at the local store, usually on gummy fish or sweet tarts.  

During grade school, I remember being teased about the healthy lunches I had packed for me (most of which I threw away), and I was even teased about my dad.  My dad was well known in the community, but he was a very large (obese) man.  As a young girl I was scared of him anyway, and since kids in school told me he was “fat,” it gave me a complex of sorts.  I began to develop a fear of gaining weight.

In my late teens, I was still a picky eater, but now I had really discovered junk food and the freedom to eat it as I pleased.  At 16, I got a job in a fast food restaurant, and although they had other choices…French Fries and milkshakes ruled my world!  Finally, I could eat what I wanted!  My eating choices didn’t seem to affect my weight.

Little by little, I seemed to revert to having frequent stomach aches, and then I began to have migraines on a regular basis that would shut me down for at least a half day.  I fought acne on my face, back, and shoulders (as is often common with teens).  A dermatologist suggested that my skin was extremely dry, which made no sense to me.  At age 18, I had food allergy tests done due to the migraines, and I registered as “slightly allergic” to things like eggs, tomatoes, shellfish and a host of other irritants.  I was given a prescription for the migraines and told to modify my diet.  I took the prescription as needed, but left the country to be an exchange student overseas…and “forgot” about the food allergies in this new land where someone else cooked for every meal.

 

My dad

My dad

Tragedy in my Twenties

Thankfully, before I left to go overseas, I finally got to know my dad for who he was and formed a strong bond and relationship with him.  Through this time, I came to respect, admire, and love him and his many qualities.  

 

A few years went by, and my dad worked hard to lose weight in his fight against diabetes and heart disease.  Sadly, my dad passed away at a young age (56), just ten days before I gave birth to my first child.  This left a huge hole and vacuum in my life, and once again instilled a fear in me of gaining weight and falling into poor health. 

Knowing I was surrounded with poor health on both sides of my family (diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and cancer),  I was determined to do everything I could to be healthy for my own kids.

The Journey Begins

When I unexpectedly became a single parent to two children in my early thirties, I had a job that kept me on the road and a bit stressed.  I found myself reaching into the 180 pound range on a 5’4” frame!  Not only was I unhappy with how I looked and felt, there was a deep stirring in me about the weight.  I knew I needed to make some changes for all of the health reasons I had kept in the back of my mind for so many years.  

I began working out daily and tried the South Beach diet. It worked!  I lost the weight, and landed around 150 pounds for quite some time.  

My kids and I after success with South Beach (2004) .

After South Beach

However, my cholesterol had been high since my mid-twenties and it hadn’t gotten better, prompting my physician to put me on statins.  I was still grappling with anxiety, and even though I was taking steps to be healthy…I was far from it.

I now suffered from frequent sinus congestion, and the ear infections began to creep back into my health scene.  Zithromax became my new “friend” to knock out the infection the fastest.

Bewildered
In 2007, I suddenly began gaining weight at a rapid pace. At first, it was thirty pounds.  Then forty.  Then fifty!  In less than eighteen months, I experienced a SIXTY+ pound weight gain.   I was terrified, self-conscious, and miserable.

Frustrated and annoyed, I tried desperately to change what I ate.  I started walking daily and working out again.  I was so anxious to lose the weight that I joined a program through my workplace.  It tracked daily steps, and I started running for the first time in my life!  I was sure that this new-found exercise routine would bring my metabolism back into order.

During my quest to learn to run, I was wheezing and having a hard time breathing.  Then my knees started to be a problem.  After putting myself on 1,000 calorie diet and accomplishing the seemingly impossible feat of running three miles daily, I was proud of myself!  Unfortunately, I was now in a terrible emotional state.  I cried for no apparent reason.  I cried because I spontaneously cried!  I had difficulty focusing and remembering; things piled up at home.  I was exhausted all of the time.

Answers, Anyone?  Anyone?

Starting with my regular medical doctor, I began seeking help from various medical professionals.  Despite brutally honest conversation and showing each doctor my exercise log and diet, along with a portfolio of photographs of my ever-increasing body size, their answers were eerily the same:  “Eat less! Exercise more!  You’re fighting genetics, Jen.”  Additionally, I was diagnosed with everything from depression to PCOS!  I had so many prescriptions, I could no longer keep track.  My Vitamin D registered at zero, which made no sense…since I was tan!  My doctor shook her head and put me on 50,000 iu of Vitamin D.  After 4 months, it STILL registered at zero!

IMG_3122With my genetics pushing in on me, my high cholesterol, pre-diabetic, anxious and depressed state was overwhelming me.  When each doctor said something different and nothing was helping, I became even more desperate.  I didn’t like myself, couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, and much less did I allow anyone to take a picture of me.   So, here I was at my daughter’s gymnastics Nationals in 2008…and I was mortified to be standing next to her fit, healthy coach – I swore nobody would EVER see this picture!

 

 Here I am at another meet that winter – hiding my expanding self behind my kids:

2009
Winter, 2008

Add to all of that, now I was having issues with just general eating.  I was just uncomfortable all of the time…I’d feel full, but hungry.  It was strange!  Given all of my other circumstances, though, it didn’t seem to be additional cause for concern at that point – just more discomfort and feelings of bewilderment.

After the last doctor I met with diagnosed me as “obese” and told me that two ounces of protein for lunch was too much, I was more than ready to just throw in the towel.  

However, thanks to several caring friends and a referral, I met Dr. Glen Aukerman (author, Better Health in 120 Days).  At my first appointment, and in my desperation, I listened to what he had to say, but I’m not gonna lie – what he said sort of freaked me out.  

I never wanted to become one of “those people”…you know, the ones who took vitamins, ate organically, etc.  I knew I couldn’t live a life of junk food, and I had already made those changes [for the most part ;)].  I also knew I couldn’t go on feeling the way I was feeling, so I truly listened as best I could and did what he asked.  

Dr. Aukerman is a medical doctor who practices Nutrigenomics and began something called the WEE Protocol.  After diagnosing me with Hashimoto’s, I began to take 48 vitamins per day (a HUGE challenge for this girl!) and he changed my diet slightly (he didn’t eliminate gluten, because my genetic test did not indicate the presence of the Celiac genes).  

I began attending his classes to try to understand what he was trying to relay to me about the science of our foods and our bodies.  At times, I was overwhelmed by it all, but slowly followed everything he said to do, and tried to accept that what he was saying was true (I googled every last word!)  

However, by Christmas of 2009, I had had enough.  Nothing had changed.  Despite doing everything he had instructed, the only change I saw was a slight decrease in my cholesterol levels.

Frustrated, annoyed, and at the end of my rope…I put myself on a yogurt smoothie diet, and continued taking the recommended vitamins.  After a week…I had gained another ten pounds!  Here is another picture I swore nobody would ever see…I was truly miserable:

Jen 1490

Right after this picture was taken, I had a follow up with Dr. A (February of 2010).  He and I sat in his office, perplexed. 

I wasn’t any better.  I felt WORSE. 

My body was shutting down, and we didn’t know why.  I could now barely walk without being fatigued. 

I just wanted to give up on all of it!  At this point, I figured he was just another doctor who couldn’t help me.  

He insisted I try going gluten free, and I argued with him.  “I’ve been eating exactly what you suggested.  I have done everything you said.  I hardly eat any gluten as it is!” 

However, my inflammation level was dangerously high, and when he saw that I wasn’t interested in trying gluten free (I think I openly scoffed at him in my frustration), he pointed out my C-Reactive number…9.5.  His words to me?  “Jen, do what you want, but if we don’t get to the bottom of this inflammation issue…you will have a heart attack or stroke within 4-6 months.”  I was 38 years old, a single parent, and had two kids to think of…

…I guess you could say I heard him at that point.

…I guess you could say I knew he was right, even though I didn’t want him to be.

Turning the Corner

And so my journey to wellness began.  Little did I know that eliminating gluten and soy would have such a grand impact on my health!  The first two weeks were absolutely TERRIBLE.  I thought I had made a big mistake.  I had a migraine for three days and I thought I had the flu!  I was nauseated during the day!  (Later, I came to understand that my body went through withdrawal.  Yes…WITHDRAWAL).

However, I kept going when I saw that I had lost about 7 pounds in those first two weeks.  In just seven months, I dropped 34 pounds… and learned a LOT along the way.  My cholesterol had dropped about 60 points, so things were looking great!

Halfway into my journey to wellness!
Halfway into my journey to wellness!

In that time, I learned how to eat, found things I could enjoy, and now I could walk up the stairs without feeling like I was going to pass out!  I was getting my life back!  I also learned an important lesson – that natural foods just taste better!  This once picky eater was starting to think of food as a fuel, and less as a pleasure.

And then, everything stopped.  I was “better” but I wasn’t healthy.  I didn’t gain weight, but I didn’t lose any more.  My cholesterol remained higher than normal.  I felt better, and yet now I had digestive issues that I hadn’t had before and aching joints.  What could it be?

I stumbled across Dr. Peter Osborne and his teaching, and really listened to how he presented things about grain…that there is gluten protein in all grain.  Even foods certified as gluten free.  There is a misunderstanding in the world about this!  After reading, listening, and absorbing…it made perfect sense to me…begrudgingly.  I really didn’t want to give up the foods I had finally found as staples in this new lifestyle.

As much as this was a health journey, it had also become a deep spiritual journey.  I had begun to learn that a healthy lifestyle contained many Biblical parallels (such as gratitude, discipline, accountability, surrender, and obedience).  

As I prayerfully considered making this change, I looked back and realized that my discipline and desire to be healthy was paying off.  In January of 2012, I eliminated rice.  A couple of months later, I gave up corn.  Yes, that’s correct…no corn, no rice, nothing from grain allowed…including things like high fructose corn syrup, rice flour “gluten free” products, my favorite snack (popcorn)…were all eliminated.

2010-2013 Comparison Jen Cuevas

I am grateful to be sitting here today…healthy.  My numbers?  Weight, 139.  Cholesterol, under 180.  Blood pressure, normal.  Sugar level, normal.  No aching joints.  No more headaches.  No more clumsiness or difficulty breathing or taking the stairs.  My sinuses are better.  My skin and nails are better.  I am FREE of worrying about my health!!!!!

I’m grateful to be helping others achieve their healthy life!  

~GREAT HEALTH AND A DELICIOUS LIFE~

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