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Whole30 Success Story Contest Winner: Jennifer’s Story

In December, we published a call for Whole30 success stories –  people who had completed the Whole30 program in 2010, and had amazing, life-changing results with the program.  We received HUNDREDS of entries – all which embodied the spirit and intention of the Whole30 program.  It was difficult to choose just one winner (and we’ll be featuring some of our other success stories on the site throughout the year), but there was one woman whose story stood out – not just for her remarkable success and transformation, but for her spirit and sass.  We are proud to announce Jennifer H. of Houston, TX as the winner of our 2010 Whole30 Success Story Contest.

Jennifer’s Story:  Ms. PCOS

Once upon a time I submitted an entry to the “Ms. Chronic Disease of America Pageant” hosted by The Meanest Mom. As one of seven finalists, I was featured on the site as Ms. PCOS.  (You can read the “transcript” of my contest entry here.)  I highlighted my infertility, the excess body hair that comes with increased levels of testosterone, the acne, the fatigue, the allergies, the insulin resistance, the daily nausea, the “working out for 2+ hours per day and eating zero sugar” regimen just so I would only gain a little weight instead of an exorbitant amount, the 40 pounds (and 7 dress sizes) I put on in less than a year, and the elevated risk of diabetes/ovarian cancer/breast cancer/stroke/hypertension/heart disease. In the spirit of making fun of myself, I laid my health woes and insecurities out on the table, all for that coveted crown.

I did not win.

However, the experience was incredibly therapeutic. Satirizing the ultimate un-sexiness of an autoimmune disease proved to be a release from the usual anxiety, depression, and grieving of a life not lived to its fullest. Following the contest however, I became even more frustrated. Not because I didn’t win; I suppose being awarded worst daily suffering is a backhanded compliment. It was the inherent hopelessness of going from doctor to doctor who can tell you nothing but “Try not to get too fat because you’ll never lose it. Go on this diabetes medication even though you don’t have diabetes and try in-vitro if you want kids.”

Well I went on that diabetes medicine and felt like dying, so I spent the next 4 years trying to alleviate my symptoms through lifestyle management. But my heart still hurt. How long could I realistically exercise for 2 hours per day? When would I finally get tired of making my bread crumbs and yogurt and dinner rolls from scratch just to avoid the added high-fructose corn syrup? How long would I faithfully follow my food guide pyramid checklist before I got tired of making sure I consumed 6-11 servings of grains and 5 servings of fruits/veggies per day? And could I really forgive myself if I birthed a daughter and passed on PCOS to her, knowing the despair it caused me?

I did Weight Watchers (twice), became a vegetarian, went on South Beach, had an eating disorder…and I went to bed crying several times a month.

After the birth of my second miracle baby, I was even more depressed. By the end of my 6-week postpartum period, I was 185 pounds. The year before getting pregnant, I was extremely strict with my diet, following all conventional wisdom. I lost 1 pound. A full year of 12 hours of exercise and 30 hours of kitchen work per week, just to net a 1-pound loss. And according to my nutritionist, I am one of the few women who gain weight while nursing (which I planned to do for a minimum of one year, hopefully longer). I wanted to disappear, but obviously at 76 pounds heavier than I was in college, disappearing was the last thing my body was doing.

My husband and I ran informal CrossFit-style workout groups out of our garage and I stumbled upon a local CrossFit that had just hosted a Whole30 workshop. I read Whole9’s mission, their 30 day program, their manifestos. And then being a woman of faith, took this up with God. I knew before even asking that it was right and made my game plan that day. I set a starting date, but was too excited to wait so I started a week early. I was nervous–meat tastes gross–but I ultimately decided out of desperation that I would rather live a longer life for my kids than avoid steak forever.

Five months later, I’ve completed two Whole30 programs. Like anything worth doing, this change requires significant effort. My resolve is weak at times, but the rapidly growing list of “Splurges that Were Not Worth It” is an invaluable resource when I want a handful of Chex Mix (not worth it) or Swedish Fish (worth it).

My PCOS symptoms have completely vanished. Acne–clear. Extra body/facial hair–gone. Hair loss–ceased. Allergies–haven’t used a single Zyrtec. After spending the last 12 years feeling like I’d been kicked in the stomach, I’m not quite sure what to do with my newfound energy. Because I went off dairy and then reintroduced it, I learned my nursing baby has a dairy intolerance. Her “silent reflux” doesn’t require Prevacid–it requires I lay off the ice cream. I got my first push-up, which is significantly easier after losing 45 pounds. My husband supports me, particularly because he now has defined abs and better digestion, my 7-month-old baby no longer cries in pain for hours at a time, my 2-year-old finally eats meat, my Dad realized halfway into his first Whole30 that he was addicted to Diet Coke, and my Mom with Type 2 diabetes has eliminated her Metformin and lowered her insulin dosage by 10 units.

I suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t become “Ms. Chronic Disease of America.”  Thanks to the Whole30, I’d have to relinquish my crown. And I’m really too busy eating steak to go through that hassle.  Thank you for what you and Dallas are doing.  It has saved my family’s life.

UPDATE from Jennifer, in January 2012: “My PCOS is completely reversed. I have a regular cycle, no signs of PCOS, and actually had my diagnosis removed in April. “

Jennifer, before her Whole30 programs (and feeling sad)

Jennifer, after the birth of her second child

Jennifer and family, post-Whole30, Christmas 2010

Inspired?

How could you not be inspired, after Jennifer’s testimonial?  Congratulations to Jennifer, and to the rest of our Whole30 Success Stories.  We’ll be featuring more of their testimonials here on the blog in the coming months, so stay tuned.  For those of you interested in learning more about PCOS – the symptoms, the diagnosis, and most importantly, how to help yourself heal – please visit Jennifer’s amazing blog, Vibrant, Sexy, Strong. And if, after reading Jennifer’s story, you are ready to change your life in just 30 days, please visit our Whole30 page.

 

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Comments

  1. Suzi says

    Wow. Congratulations for your success after so much despair. Obviously, you have an incredible work ethic; you just needed the right program!!

    I work with a woman who’s daughter saw a Simpson’s episode about slaughterhouses at age 12 and never ate another piece of meat. She is strict Vegan and is sick, sick, sick. It started as terrible acne and has developed into full-blown Lupus.

    Now, she’s pregnant. I fear for her and her child.

    I am going to take a leap of faith and give the woman at work two things…a link to this article and the book “The Vegetarian Myth”.

    Thanks for the inspiration! YOU LOOK LOVELY!

  2. Vicky says

    Wow what a story. Amazing and inspiring at the same time. Thank you for the struggle you went through and hopefully others will read and hear about your journey and be able to start theirs earlier!

    Congratulations

  3. Adrienne says

    Jennifer…that’s awesome. You go girl! So happy to hear you are well. The human body is an amazing machine if given the right fuel. (Which can be a challenge at times). Congratulations!!!

  4. Jill says

    Congratulations Jennifer on winning and your new healthy body!

    We have freshly made waffles at work today, your story (and the jeans I’m determined on looking really hot in) are a great reminder that they just aren’t worth it.

  5. says

    AMAZING!! You are an inspiration! I have had similar challenges with endometriosis, and ovarian cysts. Because of this I became gluten and dairy free a couple of years ago, and have been living Paleo for a couple of months now. Every month I am feeling better and better. Thank you Crossfit, Whole30 & RobbWolf!!

    Thank you Jennifer for sharing your story, it gives me hope that someday soon, my symptoms will be no more.

  6. Reshma says

    Awesome Jennifer! After chatting with you briefly, and reading your story, I am so glad to see you win this! You’re an inspiration to those of us dealing with PCOS. Thanks for your much needed blog. :)

  7. Cheryl M says

    Total awesomeness beyond words; to suffer that long and make so many sacrifices should help us all put in perspective how trivial some of the stuff we complain about truly is; I am excited for you and your family and what the future now holds for you all. I applaud your bravery for so openly sharing your story and absolutely love your sense of humor. A beyond inspiring story. . . thank you.

  8. Georgia says

    Wow! what an amazing story. What perseverance! Congratulations.

    Not to rain on the parade, but I also have PCOS (but an atypical presentation – without the weight issue) and two whole-30’s and a pretty strict paleo diet have not fixed it. I eat this way b/c it feels great, but I’m still hunting for an answer for the PCOS.

  9. says

    We posted a link to this story over on the SoulCysters message board. Hopefully more women with PCOS read this and decide to give the Whole30 a shot! There’s five or six of us on that site who’ve

    gone paleo and all had similar results. PCOS doesn’t stand a chance. Yay!

    Way to go, Jennifer H!

  10. says

    @The Bumbler: Would you kindly post the link to your message board, for those who are looking for additional resources to help them battle things like PCOS? Thanks so much for spreading the word.

    Best,

    Melissa

  11. Jeanye says

    Congratulations, Jennifer! If I had known you were soon to be a celebrity, I would have asked for your autograph in Houston on that cold Sunday in January! :)

    Your story is inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

  12. says

    @Melissa and Dallas: I’ve been waiting 18 months for a crown, and I must say, the Whole30 title looks/feels/performs far better than the PCOS crown I initially wanted. Plus, you threw in a scepter for good measure. Thanks you two. I’m absolutely delighted.

    @Peggy, Vicky, Craig, Adrienne, Xavier, Reshma, Cheryl, Sarena, Dawna, and Karen: Thank you for the celebratory well-wishes. It’s folks like you that help me keep going. I’m grateful for all of your support and the community you help create here.

    @Suzi: Good luck! I empathize with your friend’s daughter, and I sure hope everything turns out well. I would love to hear how it goes.

    @Jill: Ooh, those waffles smell good…and yet, those jeans are looking a whole lot better. No thanks!

    @Jessie: That’s awesome Jessie! I’m so happy you are feeling better each month. It’s amazing what our bodies can do when treated right. Good luck on your journey.

    @Georgia: I genuinely hope you find the answer soon. I would love to chat and hear more of your story – vibrantsexystrong (at) gmail (dot) com

    @TheBumbler: Thanks for posting. So pleased to hear it’s working for other women with PCOS too. It only strengthens our cause.

    @Jeanye: Girl, if I would have known on that freezing Sunday, I would have had pre-signed stickers ready to hand out *wink.* So good to hear from you and to enjoy an awesome seminar with you. I’m happy we know each other.

  13. Kevin G says

    Jennifer,

    I don’t have any words that haven’t been said but congratulations on your new found health. I appreciate you sharing your story. It really helps me put things in perspective and realize how powerful the whole30 is and how it can literally transform lives.

    Kevin

  14. Kristin says

    Great story! I too suffer from PCOS and went paleo and just had my miracle baby in August 2010. YIPPEE!!

  15. says

    WOW Jennifer. Melissa and Dallas picked a worthy winner! Keep up the good work and keep sharing your story… because we all know that it never really ends.

  16. Jodi DePorter - Whole9 EE says

    Congrats! Your story gave me goose bumps!! I always love to hear how changing what we EAT changes our LIVES….

    Those of us who have found the Whole 9 website, the Whole 30 Challenge and Dallas & Melissa need to spread the word and help those around us to end their self induced suffering from ailments they do not need to suffer from any longer!!

  17. says

    I am sitting here crying. Having fought hard w/ LC Primal (as much as PCOS/whatever this is will allow me) to a whopping 20 pound loss in the last year w/ such horrible cycles that I’ve been told I could end up needed a transfusion, this is just the story I needed to hear. I looked over Whole 30 before, most recently at the start of the year, and it’s out there a lot from bloggers I follow doing it. However, looking over it, I really didn’t think I would be able to give up some of the things I’m holding out on. Even given all I’m going through, and this testimony, I’m still not sure I can do this. I am and I will continue looking at Whole 30 and inwards. If I can dedicate myself to giving it the 100% it deserves, I will post another comment, before & after, and highlight the process and results on my blog.

  18. Jessica says

    @ Georgia.

    I too have an ‘atypical presentation’ of PCOS, sans weight gain and I began eating paleo about a year-and-a-half ago in hopes that it would resolve my issues (I had not had a period since December of 2007, just after my last pack ever of birth control pills). I went very low carb for quite some time (50 grams of carb or less with zero fruit), added iodine, fish oil, and vitamin D to the mix, cut way back on high-intensity exercise (as I heard this could exacerbate it), replacing it instead with more weight bearing exercises. Still, no sign of a menstrual cycle.

    Just this past October, I came upon some information regarding maca root. Basically all of the info I found pointed to its benefits on the endocrine system, thus the possibility that it can help regulate the hormones. I decided to give it a shot because I believe I really had tried everything else. Within two weeks of adding a tsp. to my morning cup of berries, I had a menstrual cycle. I truly could not believe it. I continued taking it each day through December, and did get a cycle for those next two months, as well. But when I ran out at the end of December, I decided not to purchase any more, as it is a bit pricey, and I had hoped that it kick-started my system for good. I waited through January for a cycle, but nothing came. So I ordered another bag (from Amazon.com), and within a couple of weeks of reintroducing it, I got one.

    I continue to eat paleo because, like you, I just feel better this way. I have geared my dad towards paleo, and he lost 30 lbs., and a family friend as well, who had a hard time losing more than 8 lbs. after chemotherapy related weight gain (she lost 22 with the Whole 30).

    However, I just needed an extra boost from some symptom-specific supplementation. I don’t know if I’ll have to take it forever, but I probably will until I get pregnant (I’m single right now, so it might be a while:-). As far as side effects go, I think it might have given me a bit more booty, but I haven’t noticed anything else. Google it, check it out, and if you do decide to try it, I do hope this might be the answer you are looking for.

    Best,

    Jessica

  19. Georgia says

    @ Jessica

    Wow! thanks so much for sharing — it’s like we have the same (hormonal) life story :)

    I will definitely check out the maca root.

    Georgia

  20. says

    @Kevin, arlingtonbadger: Thanks for your support!

    @Kristin: Congratulations on your miracle baby. After years of longing, they are such a joy.

    @Debbie: You’re so right. It’s only the beginning.

    @Jodi: I used to scoff at the idea that what I put in my mouth affected my body and my life. High school health teachers swore up and down food didn’t cause acne or eczema or other issues. Looks like a curriculum redesign is in order.

    @Melissa Fritcher: Go for it, girl. Do the Whole30. You deserve to feel good.

    @Jessica: Thanks for weighing in! Georgia had me stumped.

  21. Jenn M says

    Congrats Jennifer!! That truly is amazing! I have PCOS and like you I have dieted and gained weight. Been put on diabetes medicine (I do not have diabetes), suffered through awful side effects from taking a medication I dont need, and still gained. I have also had eating disorders and still gained. It is incredibly depressing and embarrassing. I started eating Paleo a few months back but I still wasn’t losing. I just started the Whole 30 and some mild at home crossfit and I am happy to say that the scale was kind to me this morning!!! (I know you are not supposed to weigh in on the whole 30, but considering I have NEVER been successful before, i was skeptical) I hope I can have a report similar to yours when this is all said and done! It will be a long journey for me (I have 100+ pounds to lose). I just wanted to let you know that you are such an inspiration!! What an accomplishment! For the first time, I feel like I can do this!

  22. ellen says

    I too suffer from PCOS. I have done one round of the Whole 30, and have been following Paleo for the past 2 months. Additionally, I have also been doing CrossFit for the past 2 months at a crossfit affiliate. Although I have noticed a difference in how my clothes fit, and my body composition has changed, I have only lost 1 pound!!! It is so discouraging! I was wondering how long it took to see a difference in the scale weight? I am going to start another Whole30 January 1. I still need to loose 50 pounds and just wondering if there were any additional tips out there for those of us that suffer from PCOS?

  23. says

    Jenn M: Thank you for sharing your story as well! I wonder how your Whole30 turned out? Let us know!

    Ellen: Scale weight is a very poor indicator of body composition changes, especially if you’re exercising. You noticed body comp changes and your clothes fitting differently, which tells me your proportions are changing – but if you’re gaining muscle while losing fat, the scale may not register the difference. My best advice? Get off the scale. Don’t use that as a measurement of progress – instead, use other factors (such as the fit of your clothes, your energy levels, sleep quality and performance in the gym) to judge the effectiveness of your program.

    When you’ve got major hormonal dysregulation (as you do with PCOS), it can take months for things to get back into a decent balance. Your health history plays a huge role in how quickly (or slowly) your body starts to change, so be patient. Keep doing the things you know you need to do, and focus on the things that ARE changing, instead of things that aren’t (like the scale weight). That will fall into line soon enough,, but it may take time.

    I’m glad you’re doing a strict Whole30 with us in January, to see if cleaning up your generally Paleo diet makes a difference. I suspect it will.

    Best,

    Melissa

  24. says

    @Jenn M: Wow, awesome Jenn-you are doing it! And thanks so much for your sweet words-people like you inspire me to continue on this WholeJourney.

    @Ellen: I am sorry to hear you are discouraged. That durn scale can be so frustrating, and I wholeheartedly second everything Melissa said. I lost weight fairly quickly, but I also was two months postpartum, so some of that weight was asking to come off already.

    For the past 6 months, I have hovered between 129-133. I still have excess body fat I would like to see gone, but I am no longer relying on the scale. My body composition changes depending how strictly I adhere to the Whole30, and I’m ready to go down a size in jeans, even though I weigh the same amount that I did 2 jean sizes ago.

    From my own experience, my tips would be:

    1) Ditch using the scale with any sort of regularity. Seriously.

    2) Figure out your own sugar tolerance when you aren’t on your Whole30 [sugar messes me up really badly because of my past insulin issues so I eat it pretty sparingly (sparingly = IF I eat fruit that day, it’s only once and it’s later in the afternoon)]

    3) Consider checking out what nuts do to you. Even when I am strict, I bloat and can’t fit into my pants as well when I eat nuts.

    Of course, we have different bodies and you may find things work differently for you. That’s okay! We don’t need to have the same story to be healthy.

    Good luck Ellen! And thanks for reaching out. You are already in a great spot and you can do this.

  25. ellen says

    Melissa and Jennifer – thank you for your comments. It really helped me mentally to focus on what is changing. I guess I was hoping the weight would just fall off like it used to ;). There are so many other positives right now with eating Whole30 besides just the weight issue. I also need to remember that I have not gained any weight in a really long time as well and have acutally gone down a little. Best of all, we found out on Christmas that we are expecting!!!! I totally credit it to cleaning up my diet with Whole30. I am looking forward to eating Whole30 throughtout my pregnancy!! Thank you :)

  26. Michelle says

    Jen first of all congratulations!!! I have been following your blog for about 6 months now and think it is so inspirational to learn from the experiences of real people. I love when I read about people who are changing their lives without their main focus being to look a certain way. Thanks for sharing your story and letting us into your life, it will change someone else’s life!

  27. Jennie says

    I an intrigued by this story and this way of eating, but nervous about doing anything that would hurt my 8 month old. Can I nurse while following this lifestyle? And, can you have any sort of coffee or tea? I can’t find that information on the site. Sounds like a wonderful way to eat.

  28. says

    @Michelle and Tracy: Thank you for your sweet words; support like this continually buoys me on harder days.

    @Jennie: I started eating Paleo when my baby was 2 months old, and am still nursing her at 20-months. I can’t speak for everyone, but I didn’t experience any ill effects from the transition and my milk supply is far more abundant when I eat Paleo. I don’t personally drink coffee or tea, but plenty of Whole30ers do. Here’s a link to the yes-foods and no-foods. The comment section in particular is a wealth of information when you’re starting out: http://whole9life.com/2012/01/whole-30-v2012/

  29. says

    Hi NV, I just checked my spam folder and there are 3 non-spammy emails in there–thanks for bringing it to my attention! I don’t see anyone listed as NV, but I’ll be working my way through this evening. If you don’t hear back from me by tomorrow evening, please feel free to resend it and I’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

  30. Madrona says

    Really? The extra hair went *away*?? Are you sure? Cause good lord, I’d do whole 30 for the rest of my flippin’ life if the hair would go *away* and never come back.

  31. Sabina says

    This post gives me so much hope. I am 22 years old and seriously PCOS has held me back like crazy. The excess weight that never came off no matter how much I exercised or limited my intake of food is something I relate to as well. The ridiculous mind fog, that I have somewhat gotten under control by eliminating gluten, but I’m definitely going to do this program. Thank you for sharing your story!

  32. says

    How exciting to be embarking on your first Whole30, Sabina. After transitioning into this style of eating, it seems hard to believe that PCOS controlled my entire life. I’m grateful it has worked so well for me and I’m keeping my fingers crossed it will help you as well. Best of luck to you!

  33. Ayan says

    ohh this is interesting i m suffering irregular and planning to marry soon n this encourages me a lot i was so frustrated will i stop my marriage for this PCOS, but u know i can make it Allah will be to win this journey thanks guys i bet u r so sweet and seeing ur encouraging comment ummmmmmm

    Ayan

  34. Morgan says

    My question is how do you live your lifestyle now, how do you eat in between your whole 30 sessions? And how long do you think it would take after reintroducing some of the foods for the pcos symptoms to return? I am really trying to control this disease, as well as Hashimoto’s, without synthetic hormones and bcp. I am starting the Whole30 in January, and am extremely excited, but I think being able to succeed with it relies a lot on the fact that there is an end point in sight. In my mind I am able to think, only 30 days right? I just don’t know if I could commit to living a whole30 lifestyle more than once or twice a year. What advice would you, or anyone for that matter, have for this?