When encountering obstacles in life, such as illnesses, we often believe there may be no cure other than medicine. For Elizabeth, transforming her lifestyle allowed her to overcome her multiple sclerosis, and to grow as person overall. Her ability to find natural nutritious remedies gave her opportunities she may never have expected beforehand. Elizabeth found a healthier identity for herself and so can you.
By Elizabeth Yarnell, ND
It all changed after that night in 1998, when I went to bed as usual and awoke blind in my right eye. Until this point I was happy just to pay my bills and enjoy life in the process. It was two weeks before my thirtieth birthday and I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
It’s a terrifying experience to see images showing damage in your brain and learning that 80-percent of MS patients end up significantly disabled. As much as I may have wanted to curl up into a ball of self-pity, I instead looked for ways to improve this picture of my future.
I began researching health and nutrition, and studying the link between what you eat and how you feel. I began taking cooking classes and watching the Food Network. Then one night I was inspired to layer whole foods into my Dutch oven and flash-cook it for a one-pot meal. The results were delicious, and that became the default way we cooked and ate. After staying with us for a week, my college roommate asked me to teach her how to cook the way I did. So I sat down and wrote a cookbook.
For the next five years I submitted the manuscript to publishers and agents to no avail. In the meantime, I joined a Toastmasters club to become a better public speaker. I began teaching cooking classes at cooking schools, health fairs, corporate wellness events, to community groups, and wherever else they would let me teach. I started studying for nutrition degrees, becoming a Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC) and Certified Natural Health Professional (CNHP), and finally, a Naturopathic Doctor (ND). I also applied for and was granted a patent from the US and Canadian patent offices for the unique cooking process I had invented.
Finally, I gave up waiting and plunged into self-publishing. It turned out to be a good decision as my cookbook sold 2,000 copies the first month it was released, spent 8 weeks on the local best sellers list, and came to the attention of Random House, who published the second edition in 2009. As of now, the Glorious One-Pot Meals cookbook has sold more than 40,000 copies, and helped many people eat healthier meals more often.
For a long time, I thought the key to health lay in focusing on whole foods rather than processed foods. But, even though he had been fed whole, organic foods since birth, my son was sick. Finally, it came to a head when he was six and we found a blood test that could identify hidden food and chemical sensitivities. He tested reactive to 41 common foods and food additives. Once we eliminated these from his life, the turnaround was remarkable: in the first two months he grew 2.5 inches, gained 15 lbs., stopped having tantrums, and slept through the night.
I studied dietary management protocols and added Certified LEAP Therapist to my list of degrees (CLT).
While preparing for the CLT test, I had a “eureka moment” where I saw a clear link between the biological mechanisms at work in food sensitivities and those involved in multiple sclerosis. There is not much research done into this because there aren’t patentable pharmaceuticals involved. I thought it deserved further study, so I launched the Fight MS with Food project to look into it and help others suffering from MS find a way to manage their disease.
At this point, I have not had any MS symptoms since 2002 and I strongly believe the course of my disease is influenced by the way I now eat and live. At 42, I am healthier and in better shape physically and emotionally than I was at 22.
Now I get to speak to groups around the country about healthy eating. My virtual clinical practice, focused on helping people who are in chronic physical distress through state-of-the-art dietary therapies, is incredibly rewarding. And my son is happy, healthy, and thriving.
Getting diagnosed with MS inspired what has become my passion and purpose in life, changed my career, and shifted my focus from helping myself to helping others. While I never envisioned a future that looked like this, I can’t imagine it any other way.
See how Elizabeth answers our Identity Five Questions:
1. What have you accepted within yourself and/or within your life? Is there anything you are working on accepting?
I have accepted that my body is hypersensitive and as such I cannot afford to treat it casually and expect to feel good everyday. I am working on accepting that I cannot and will never be everything to everyone, and that not everyone will even like me. Most importantly, I have finally accepted and embraced my individuality and now accept that I don’t always fit into familiar molds or follow mainstream paths.
2. What do you appreciate about yourself or your life?
I feel blessed to have found my mate and to have relationships that keep growing and deepening. I appreciate that I’ve always given freely of my time and knowledge, and helped those I could whenever possible.
3. What have you achieved, or what are you working to achieve personally, physically, or mentally?
I have worked hard for my achievements in my career: award-winning author, patented inventor, professional speaker, respected naturopath. My most important achievement, however, is being able to help people feel better, and most particularly, in healing my son.
4. What is your not-so-perfect way? We are all unique with quirks and imperfections, so why not flaunt them and embrace them!
I am not a good employee; I’m bossy and opinionated, I don’t like managing people, and I chafe at being managed or monitored. I have difficulty navigating office politics. My mother says I’m “intense.”
I guess this is why I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was twelve – it’s hard to fight your inner nature.
5. How would you complete this sentence, “I Love My…” This has to be about you, physically or mentally.
I love my hazel eyes – they are emerald green with flecks of gold and orange – and I love my persistence and tenacity in the face of adversity. I also love my compassionate heart that brings me to tears during long distance commercials and makes me stop to rescue lost dogs.
Elizabeth Yarnell, ND, is the author of Glorious One-Pot Meals: A Revolutionary New Quick and Healthy Approach to Dutch Oven Cooking (Clarkson-Potter, 2009). A naturopath, patented inventor, and Director of the “Fight MS with Food” project, Elizabeth runs a nationwide virtual clinical practice focused on helping people in chronic physical distress feel better. She blogs and speaks about healthy eating to groups around the country.